Friday, October 29, 2004

Airport group trims sites to 3 possibilities

Distance issue still plagues committee?s discussions

Express Staff Writer

Three potential sites for a new Wood River Valley airport emerged Tuesday night from a list of 16 as the most favored consensus candidates for replacing Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.

But the selections don?t constitute a final recommendation from the Friedman Memorial Airport Site Selection Committee, the citizens group of 25 primary and 25 alternate members representing valley organizations and govern-ments.

A final suggestion to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority on preferred sites is months away as the group con-tinues its studies. A decision by the airport governing board is perhaps a year away.

Then, any proposed site would need approval of the Federal Aviation Administration. Also up for a decision is the disposition of the present Friedman Memorial Airport, built on land in Hailey donated by the pioneer Friedman family in the early 1900s.

Even as the site group was paring down the original list of 16 potential sites, an unexpected issue was thrown into the mix of criteria used to test the suitability of a new airport location.

Two representatives of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, Carolyn Smith, of the tribes? cultural resource department, and Yvette Tuell, of the fisheries department, reminded the group that the Sho-Bans have treaty rights on any unoccupied federal or state land that might be designated for an airport.

Treaty rights could become an issue, although both women said it isn?t the tribes? intent to create obstacles to the airport.

Both Smith and Tuell said they appreciated being involved in the airport site search, and only want to make sure ?the tribes? interests are not compromised,? Tuell added.

In a later interview with the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday, the tribes? general legal counsel, William Ba-con, said treaty rights don?t necessarily block such a project as the airport.

He said the tribes through their trustee, the U.S. government, would negotiate for financial compensation for any resources lost to airport construction, if at all.

Article No. 4 of the treaty, which was signed on July 3, 1868, at Fort Bridger, Utah, covers the tribes? rights on public lands.

The three sites garnering the most support in a voice vote were:

 Site No. 3, in the so-called Bellevue Triangle less than eight air miles southeast of the present Friedman Memorial and between north-south Highway 75 and Gannet Road and north of east-west U.S. 20 in an area of flat farmland and open range.

 Site No. 10, about 17 air miles south-southeast Friedman, east of Highway 75 and south of U.S. 20.

 Site No. 13, about 17.5 air miles southwest of Friedman airport, virtually alongside U.S. 20 and just across the Blaine County line inside Camas County, a few miles east of Fairfield. This site is virtually in the same area designated in a 1990 study for a future airport.

Only site No. 10 is on public land, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

To be listed as a potential site, the 16 original locations needed at least 600 acres of total land area capable of con-taining a facility at least 2.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.

In deliberations Tuesday night, the group considered six criteria in whether sites would qualify--sufficient land area, clear air space in surrounding terrain for landings and takeoffs, land not already dedicated for recreation or historic preservation, avoiding wetlands, avoiding areas used by special wildlife, and distant from residences.

Each committee member was polled on all 16 sites and whether they were flawed. Some failing sites had as many as 79 flaws listed by committee members on paper ballots before their voice-vote picks.

A site near Carey was stricken from the list, for example, because of its nearness to the Craters of the Moon Na-tional Monument and Preserve.

One irritant continues to plague deliberations, however: the distance of a new airport from the Sun Valley Resort.

The resort?s marketing director, Jack Sibbach, appearing as Sun Valley Company?s alternate to general manager Wally Huffman, told the group that Horizon Airlines has told him that ?we can kiss our Seattle flights (to the Wood River Valley) goodbye? if a new airport is located as distant as Fairfield.

Realtor Dick Fenton joined Sibbach as well as former Ketchum city councilman Maurice Charlat in expressing con-cern about distances. The present airfield is about 15 miles from the resort. Site 13 would put the airport 32 miles as the crow flies from the resort, but farther in distance and time because of road travel.

?This (distance) is causing unease,? Fenton said.

?A major sticking point,? chimed in Steve Garman, operator of a charter jet service at Friedman Memorial.

When Mead & Hunt airport consultant Tom Schnetzer replied that data from other resorts indicated ?anything under 60 minutes (resort-to-airport drive time) is going to be workable,? Sibbach said, ?I?d like to see that study.?

Sibbach, incidentally, picked two of the preferred locations--sites 13 and 10--during the balloting, but picked the present Hailey airport--site No. 1--as his primary choice.

Huffman has made no secret in earlier meetings that he prefers a closer-in airport or retaining the present field and spending whatever is necessary to comply with FAA safety standards.

But as Friedman airport manager Rick Baird has pointed out, the present airport cannot accommodate larger jets and surrounding terrain will continue to be a permanent hazard. The FAA is unlikely to provide funds for such sweeping improvements, Baird has said.

Although not included in official studies, some members of the site committee have pointed out that an old mining road through Croy Canyon from Hailey to the Fairfield area might be developed as a transportation corridor to shrink drive time.

Rather than wait until January for the next scheduled meeting of the site committee, the group voted to meet again before Thanksgiving, to intensify studies and discussions of potential sites.

Although the airport authority meets Tuesday and will formally discuss the site committee?s suggestions, the pre-ferred sites will not come as news to the governing body: all five members attended the site meeting.

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