By Elon Glucklich

The Bulletin

Sisters Airport has added a new helicopter landing pad, doubled its runway width and installed a 12,000-gallon fuel tank over the last two years.

Now, city leaders say they’re less than one month away from the next phase of the airport’s growth: annexing the 35-acre airport from Deschutes County-owned land to city of Sisters property.

Annexation would pave the way for further airport expansion, potentially bringing new businesses along with more hangars, a cafe and lounge, airport officials said.

Those are steps the airport can’t take while operating on Deschutes County land. The county zoned the airport property as a low-density, rural area. Bringing the land into Sisters’ urban growth boundary would let the city change the zoning to accommodate more airplane and helicopter traffic.

Sisters City Councilors discussed possible annexation with Deschutes County commissioners during a joint meeting Thursday.

A formal vote on annexation by the city council could come by the end of the month, City Manager Andrew Gorayeb said.

“The city has been working diligently on this,” Gorayeb said. “It’s a critical project.”

Annexing the airport means working with the airport’s owners, Bennie and Julie Benson, to decide what improvement projects the city will take the lead on and where the Bensons will use their own funds.

Those projects include paying for a new road leading to the airport and adding new parking spaces.

The plan hasn’t unfolded without some controversy, though. Gorayeb and Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger said they’ve received phone calls from some residents who live near the airport, voicing concerns over safety and noise from increased air traffic.

Gorayeb said any airport expansion isn’t likely to have a major impact. And Unger said Deschutes County is on board with annexation, seeing it as an economic driver for Sisters. Unger added that a meeting with residents near the airport could be possible to try to address concerns.

Annexation talks go back to mid-2012, about a year after the Bensons purchased the property, airport manager Hobbs Magarét said.

The Bensons, who operate the business Energyneering Solutions at the airport, outlined their proposal to annex and expand the airport over the summer of 2012. That November, Sisters voters approved the annexation proposal, giving the Bensons the go-ahead to submit an airport master plan.

Gorayeb said discussions have dragged on a bit as the city and the Bensons have hammered out contract details.

But he hopes a vote by the City Council this month would set the plan in stone.

Many of the planned improvements would be several years off. But those discussions have come as the airport has landed key state grants to grow as much as possible under its current zoning plan.

A $600,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s ConnectOregon program helped finance the runway expansion in 2012. Airport officials applied in November for more ConnectOregon funds, which would help pay for the new parking spaces and a longer airport taxiway.

The Bensons are preparing to expand Energyneering Solutions’ presence at the airport if annexation moves forward, Gorayeb said, which could bring more jobs to Sisters. Energyneering Solutions is a renewable energy construction and engineering company, which has operated in Sisters since 2007.

A larger airport with more space for businesses to grow has paid off for Bend, Deschutes County Administrator Tom Anderson said. Even with the loss of hundreds of Cessna jobs in 2009, Bend Airport still accounts for more than 850 direct and indirect jobs, according to a recent Oregon Department of Aviation report.

“The county certainly understands the economic benefit an airport can bring,” Anderson said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,