Friday, May 6, 2005

'Triangle' taken off site list

Airport authority defers to site selection group's work

Express Staff Writer

For the better part of its 3.5-hour monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority worked to extricate itself from a controversy it stirred in April when it agreed to restudy potential airport sites in the Bellevue Triangle.

At the April 12 meeting, in approving a motion by Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, the five-member board instructed airport consultants to restudy possible sites in the Triangle, located south of Bellevue between Highway 75 and Gannett Road. However, an apparent motive later emerged: A restudy would occur not to give serious thought to sites there but to mollify Sun Valley-Ketchum business interests that criticize relocating the Hailey airport to a distant site.

However, when Hailey Airport Manager Rick Baird said a restudy of Triangle sites with the same criteria applied to other locales would cost $100,000 and delay site selection by 90 days, several authority members immediately indicated a change of heart and a willingness to rescind their action.

That was the board's action this week. On a motion by member Len Harlig, the authority in effect voted not to interfere with the site selection committee's work, and would await site recommendations from the committee before deciding which site should be referred to the Federal Aviation Administration for study and ultimate approval.

McBryant was not at the authority meeting Tuesday.

Before the 4-0 vote, however, the board sat through a string of comments and suggestions.

Authority member Ron Fairfax renewed a request of colleagues to spend the $100,000 for a restudy of the Triangle as a way of muting Ketchum-Sun Valley area critics, including seven out of 24 members of the site committee who urged the restudy. He later voted with the majority to abandon the restudy.

Predictably, this week's authority session drew a standing-room-only crowd, mostly residents and property owners in the Triangle, all of them adamantly opposed to an airport in the area.

A constant observer at meetings, Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission member Larry Schoen, suggested the authority declare all the Triangle sites as well as sites 10 (on federal land east of state Highway 75 and south of Timmerman Hills) and 13 (in Camas County east of Fairfield along U.S. Highway 20) as disqualified. The board took no action on the request.

Of Triangle sites, longtime rancher and outdoors activist Katie Breckenridge told the authority that "we've been inundated for years about open space—an airport goes against all that." She also said talk of the Triangle for an airport "drives the wedge even deeper between the north end of the county and the south end," calling it the "arrogance of the north (county) pounding on the 'stupid' farmers."

The notion of a clash between north and south Blaine County interests hit a sour note with Harlig, when one member of the audience said the county "is not represented by Dick Fenton and Wally Huffman," a real estate executive and general manager of the Sun Valley Company, respectively.

"Talk about issues and not people," Harlig said.

Triangle resident Suzi Byng offered the board a study she'd conducted about the distances of airports from 14 western ski resorts, 12 of which, she said, were as far or farther away than candidate sites in Camas ands Lincoln counties.

At this point, site committee member Susan Cutter, representing the city of Sun Valley but at the authority meeting as an observer, interjected that there's a "two-hour drive to the most successful ski resort on the continent (British Columbia's Whistler)—and without revenue guarantees."

Revenue guarantees for airlines have become a major talking point about the risks of a distant airport and its effect on passenger volume.

A major Triangle property owner, Tom O'Gara, whose corporate interests in international security and armored vehicles has made him an influential Washington figure, had attorney Doug Werth add his opposition.

The Triangle, Werth said, is for recreation, agriculture, quiet—not an airport.

Triangle activist Pepin Corso-Harris submitted petitions with signatures of 94 objectors to Triangle sites.

She also suggested—and the board agreed—that talk of expanding the existing Friedman Memorial Airport would be quickly silenced if residents could see an aerial photo of an expanded airport's destruction of nearby homes and businesses and relocation of Highway 75.

Such a photo will be prepared and distributed, consultant Charles Sundby agreed.

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