Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Camas County to be briefed on airport sites

Express Staff Writer

A team from Friedman Memorial Airport based in Hailey will stage a briefing for Camas County residents Monday evening, Jan. 10, about the status of the search for a new airport site that now seems to favor a location east of Fairfield.

Airport manager Rick Baird said the meeting is to deal with "more rumor than fact" that seems to be spreading in the Fairfield area about the airport site search.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the American Legion Hall on Camas Street in Fairfield.

Also joining the briefing will be Mary Ann Mix, Blaine County commission chair and chair of the Friedman airport authority, and representatives of the airport's consulting firm, Mead & Hunt.

Baird and the consultants have put together a 45-minute briefing that includes graphics to explain why a new airport is needed, how and why a 50-member citizens site selection committee was created and the process that since June has narrowed possible sites to just a handful. The presentation has been made several times to community groups.

The site attracting more support and attention is an area just inside the Camas County line east of Fairfield alongside U.S. Highway 20.

Its popularity was enhanced recently when Hailey resident and actor Bruce Willis offered the authority -- at no cost -- more than 1,000 acres he owns in the area for the airport, whose minimum requirement would be about 600 acres.

Willis also operates the Soldier Mountain ski area north of Fairfield on land leased from the Forest Service.

The Friedman airport governing body thanked Willis for the offer, but has not acted on it, pending more months of study and then review by the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, Camas County isn't the preference of everyone, notably the Sun Valley Resort, whose general manager, Wally Huffman, fears the distance will discourage airline service to the region.

Possible designation of a site in Camas County has stirred some local criticism in Fairfield as well.

One such attack came from Claude Ballard, a Fairfield resident who previously was mayor of the city of Bellevue and a member of the Blaine County Airport Commission, which was the predecessor to the Friedman airport authority.

In a letter to The Camas Courier newspaper, Ballard wrote that if a Camas site is selected, "(aircraft) landing, takeoff and holding patterns will affect every area of this beautiful valley."

Continuing, he wrote: "The benefactor will be Blaine County. The monster will no longer be under the bed, it will be in your lap."

Ballard also complained about a lack of information about the site selection process.

However, Camas County government and civic interests have two representatives each from four groups on the site selection committee, and all meetings of the site committee and the airport have been publicized and open to the public.

Pending further studies, the Camas site's major plus is that it has miles of unobstructed terrain for landings and takeoffs and generally is distant from populated areas. The area also does not involve any apparent major environmental or wildlife issues.

The only other sites targeted for more intensive study is one east of the Camas-Blaine county line along highway 20, and three locations -- sites 8, 9 and 10 -- south of U.S. Highway 20 in the so-called Timmerman Hills area adjacent to state Highway 75.

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