Friday, November 5, 2004

Is there an airfield on your horizon?

Airport sites selection stirs sudden citizen interest

Express Staff Writer

The prospect that a new airport might land in their backyards has stirred a sudden surge of citizen interest in the relocation of Friedman Memorial Airport.

Only standing room was available Wednesday night in the Old Blaine County Courthouse meeting room when more than 100 residents appeared to ask questions about 16 sites being studied for a new facility.

A lot of the focus was on site No. 3, south of the present Hailey airport in the so-called Bellevue Triangle, which is farmland with homes on large tracts located between Highway 75 and Gannett Road.

As residents clustered around airport manager Rick Baird asking why the site had been picked, Baird explained it was not an officially recommended site, that studies are continuing and that site No. 3 might well be eliminated in due course for any of a long list of disqualifying reasons.

As Hailey resident Katherine James wrote later in a comment sheet, ?Site 3 seems already in our backyard,? adding that living near the present airfield has been ?punishing? because of noise.

The sudden new interest also has spawned a special community meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday at the O?Gara farm on Price Lane, south of Bellevue. Area resident Pepin Corso-Harris, not airport officials, has organized the meeting to discuss sites as well as develop community responses to possible sites near their properties.

The public will have another chance to hear deliberations of the airport site selection study committee at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16 at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

On a voice vote at its Oct. 26 meeting, the site advisory committee expressed non-binding preferences for three potential sites.

· Site No. 3 in the Bellevue Triangle is less than eight air miles southeast of the present Friedman Memorial Airport and between north-south Highway 75 and Gannet Road and north of east-west U.S. 20.

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

· Site No. 13 is 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 the 1990 Coffman study for a future airport.

However, the committee is expected to apply even stricter criteria before settling on a handful of sites it will recommend for final consideration by the airport authority.

Sites must clear a formidable list of hurdles to be considered in the end, including issues involving the environment, climate, acceptability to airlines, reasonable distance from Wood River Valley economic interests, protection of wildlife and wetlands, acceptance by Native American tribal interests, clearance from terrain.

Final site approval rests with the Federal Aviation Administration, which imposes strict safety criteria and also would provide the lion?s share of an anticipated cost of some $100 million. If a site were approved, a new airport would be 10 years in the future.

In addition to Baird, also on hand Wednesday to answer questions were member of the airport?s consulting firms, Tom Schnetzer, Paul Powers and Mark Breunkink, of Mead & Hunt, and Chuck Sundby, of Toothman-Orton. The meeting also attracted state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, the state Legislature?s Democratic minority leader, Larry Schoen, of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Board, and two members of the Friedman governing board, County Commissioner Mary Ann Mix and Dr. Ron Fairfax.

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