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Jobs expected from Illinois Valley airport project

The Josephine County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved a lease with a development company that local officials hope will result in much-needed improvements to the Illinois Valley Airport — and jobs.

 Cave Junction Mayor Carl Jacobsen and prominent local realtor Jim Frick were among several members of the public who testified in favor of the lease during about an hour of public comment, after which the board voted 3-0 to approve the lease.

Manor Communities Development intends to build facilities at the airport for multiple tenants related to the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

County Airport Manager Larry Graves said that Manor has several potential tenants in mind, including some that have already committed. However, their identities will not be announced until they actually sign leases with Manor.

Graves told the commissioners there really is no down side because the lease protects the county. The lease has an exit clause allowing the county to end the contract if Manor does not uphold its obligation, which includes obtaining necessary permits for the type of manufacturing that will be performed.

Graves told the Daily Courier he expects there to be at least one research and development company, a pilot training company and a manufacturing company.

Commissioner Simon Hare said the county has been working on the lease for some time, and many negotiations were conducted in executive sessions. Hare also said the county has had attorneys review the lease for the past two weeks.

"What matters is the lease is tight enough to protect the county," Hare said.

There were a handful of people who objected to the lease, including resident county critics Dale Matthews and former county commissioner Sandi Cassanelli. They accused the county of rushing into something and not properly vetting the developer.

Dismissing critics as "Negative Nancies," Frick lauded Manor and Larry Osborn, the company's founder, for taking action that would bring much-needed jobs to the Illinois Valley.

Jacobsen praised the deal for its potential to bring jobs to Cave Junction, one of the poorest communities in rural Oregon. County officials have said the deal could result in up to 200 jobs.

"It would be good for the valley if everything works out," Jacobsen said.

By everything Jacobsen referred to the terms of the lease, which includes a minimum of $5.5 million in revenue for the airport over the life of the lease. The remainder of the $18 million contract would be in the form of much-needed upgrades and improvements at the airport. If Manor fails to make the improvements, the county could receive the entire $18 million in revenue.

Graves said that two-thirds to three-quarters of the payment will be in the form of credit for infrastructure improvements such as a new water system, new electrical system, a taxi way to connect existing taxi lanes, an airport ramp area, a septic handling system and completion of an industrial park at the airport.

Those improvements are expected to lead to even more commerce at the airport.

Commission Chairwoman Cherryl Walker said the county has been working on the lease deal for several months and that not only is there no risk to the county, it could be a big economical boost as well.

"Our primary job as commissioners is to do the best for Josephine County," Walker said just prior to her, Hare and Commissioner Keith Heck voting to approve the lease.

Reach reporter Jim Moore at 541-474-3721 or jmoore@thedailycourier.com