During the March 19 Corvallis City Council meeting, members of the the city’s airport advisory board were delivering their annual report when something caught the ear of a Gazette-Times reporter.

Lanny Zoeller, the board chair, was talking about a project that is about to get underway on one of the runways, 9/27. Then he noted that the runway was undergoing a name change. “It’s just the way of the world these days,” Zoeller said.


What is going on in the world that forces towns such as Corvallis to change the names of their runways? Is this a Homeland Security or Transportation Safety Administration thing? Is it meant to foil the black helicopters? Are we going to start naming runways Joe or Fred and dispense with the cold, unfeeling numbering system? Does Albany have this problem?

Dazed and confused, we shot an email to Mary Steckel, the city’s director of Public Works, the department that supervises Corvallis Municipal Airport operations. We asked: Can you help us? 

“Yes, I can,” she wrote back. “The numbers given the runway correspond to the compass (heading). 9/27 is really 90/270 on a compass reading. Over time, apparently, the Earth shifts a tiny bit and now the location of this runway on the compass is 100/280 or 10/28.”

This is mind-boggling. The Earth has moved “a tiny bit” and we have to rename all the runways? Will they just try to paint around the 7 a bit and turn it into the 8? They are hosed on the 9, though. Tough to make it turn into a 10.

And should the cost-conscious residents of Corvallis be concerned that a runway restoration project took so long to get going that the Earth moved “a tiny bit” while we were waiting for the financing … or design updates … or wetlands permits?

Kind of changes your perception of time … and the Earth … and, by definition, everything else.

For the record 1: Since this item was posted initially on Tuesday as a blog on the Gazette-Times website, we have received numerous comments/explanations from readers. The upshot is that the Earth did not, in fact move, but that the Earth's magnetic field continues to shift, as it has for millennia. Eventually the magnetic fields will shift so much that the North Pole will become the South Pole. And the changes that are leading to the runway renaming are called magnetic declination, which measures the difference between magnetic north and true north.

For the record 2: In addition to the name change, the runway project will reconfigure two taxiways, add an asphalt overlay, construct new edge drains, replace an aging drainage system, add edge lights for the runway and taxiways, arrange for an emergency generator and complete perimeter fencing. 

The project, which is scheduled to begin in July and conclude in September 2019, costs $6.4 million. In December 2016, the city accepted an Oregon Department of Transportation grant of about $640,000 that finished off the funding required. 

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.