A recent editorial in the East Oregonian talked extensively about the risks involved with developing the infrastructure at the Pendleton Regional Airport and its associated UAV test range. The editorial called the plans to put in more robust utilities at the airport “a detriment, not a benefit, to most residents.” The article seemed to infer that improving the airport’s infrastructure was an ill-conceived gamble with taxpayer dollars. The EO also voiced discontent with a city council “who barely deigned to discuss this pivot to an expensive new project.” I found this attitude quite curious and can only ask the authors: Where have you been?
For the past year, the city council and I have been talking to dozens of civic groups about the turnaround that has been taking place at the airport and its UAV test range. Progress reports have been given to the council in public meetings. We have been saying, very consistently, that as the airport generates more money we need to reinvest those profits into making our test range more available, safe and modern. Included in this idea is the building of more hangars and office spaces so new customers can have a place to work. Also necessary are the water, sewer, and power lines that this type of infrastructure requires.
In fact, for the past six months, we have been working closely with the Economic Development Administration to apply for a $3 million grant for just such improvements. For some reason this EDA grant wasn’t even mentioned in the EO editorial, and yet it is the catalyst required to spur any new building projects at the airport. Without the EDA money, improvements will proceed much more slowly. The talk of spending $25 million is for the total scope of projects in the master plan and would probably be spread over many years, if not a couple of decades.
The EO article said I was “out of touch” because I emphasized the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the UAS test range returns to Pendleton more than the importance of job creation. Let’s be honest, the test range is creating some well-paying jobs, but we have hundreds of jobs with benefits sitting open in Pendleton right now. The revenues generated by the test range have put airport operations in the black (we have started to pay off the airport debt and have ceased loaning the airport money each year to pay for operations). Revenues are up by about 60 percent this fiscal year and are projected to double again next year. What is not to like about that?
Improvements at the airport are not a case of “if we build it they will come.” They, our customers, are already here and new infrastructure is the key to attracting more.