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Jeb Bladine: Misinformation hits at Evergreen story

Officials at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum respond calmly to public misconceptions about EASM’s slow but steady emergence from the shadow of its controversial history. But even their patience is being tested by some irresponsible agitation.

Let’s stop for a brief review of the basics:

EASM is a nonprofit institution that owns 82 aircraft, including the famed Spruce Goose. The museum leases three imposing facilities — air museum, space museum and theater buildings — where those aircraft are displayed alongside 58 others on loan from a variety of owners.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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The Falls Event Center, one of the museum’s two landlords, owns the water park, space museum building and chapel/events center, along with surrounding lands. TFEC acquired those assets, along with nine aircraft, during one of several bankruptcies involving the late Del Smith’s private Evergreen empire.

EASM’s other landlord is George Schott, a private investor associated with the Collings Foundation, who purchased the air museum and theater buildings in another bankruptcy. Schott and Collings acquired ownership of eight aircraft.

Prior to those bankruptcies, Smith’s various private entities owned all buildings and many aircraft displayed by EASM. The museum, thanks to an anonymous donor, acquired 17 aircraft from those bankruptcies, and brokered a deal requiring TFEC-owned planes to remain at the museum unless sold to other parties.

The summer of 2017 featured some unfortunate timing for EASM.

One landlord, Collings, finalized long-known plans to move its popular B-17 Flying Fortress. The sting of that move prompted memories of other bankruptcy losses, including the wonderful Ford Trimotor.

Landlord No. 2, TFEC, created a double-whammy public information nightmare with simultaneous announcements: First, TFEC sold the highly-prized Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and North American P-51 Mustang; second, we learned that companies controlled by TFEC owner Steve Down are under investigation by the SEC for alleged investment irregularities.

Again, EASM is a local nonprofit institution, not to be confused with its two private landlords. Whatever the results of that SEC investigation, EASM will continue working to become financially sound and a strong community and regional partner.

About that agitation: Some local voices with questionable motives are criticizing EASM for losing the two planes sold by TFEC. One of those critics is circulating a near-hysterical mixture of misinformed legal arguments and occasionally libelous accusations.

The damage to EASM is limited at this point, but expansion of that misinformation campaign could become a community embarrassment.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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