Friday, June 10, 2005

Airport site committee completes job

Airport Authority decides to disband panel

Express Staff Writer

The citizens site selection committee created last year to study possible locales for a new airport and recommend site preferences to replace the Hailey airport was in effect disbanded Tuesday night by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

An end to the committee's work was declared Tuesday night by authority members, who said the 25-member group (along with 25 alternates) had done its job ably and its task had been completed.

The decision was sprinkled with words of thanks for the committee's work.

The Airport Authority also decided to cancel a scheduled June 28 meeting of the site committee, since no future business seems indicated.

A major public meeting of the Airport Authority, however, will be held Tuesday, June 21, at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Campus auditorium in Hailey to discuss three preferred sites recommended by the committee. The list of sites includes No. 9, located in Lincoln County west of Highway 75, just south of the Blaine County line; No. 13, located in Camas County on U.S. 20 east of Fairfield; and No. 10, in Blaine County just north of Timmerman Junction, the intersection of U.S. 20 and Highway 75.

Airport Authority members instructed Friedman Manager Rick Baird to inform committee members with a more personal touch and indicate they're invited to continue attending meetings of the authority.

The site committee's demise seemed apparent last month when the 17 members attending a regular meeting picked three sites. Airport Authority member Len Harlig noted that interest in committee work was obviously waning, since only 17 attended when the crucial site preferences were voted, and even alternates for the absent eight members didn't attend.

Airport Authority attorney Barry Luboviski suggested that although the formal group had been dissolved, members would continue to be interested in the site-selection process.

The June 21 meeting is expected to result in the authority's official selection of a preferred site. From there, a whole host of activities will be triggered.

If site No. 9 in Lincoln County is endorsed, then action will shift to Lincoln County, where the County Commission must decide whether an airport should be located there. The Airport Authority has no power to force Lincoln County to accept the recommendation.

The same would be true if the Camas County site is the governing board's choice, although that seems unlikely.

The Federal Aviation Administration will also become a bigger player, as more finely tuned major environmental, economic and operational studies focus on the preferred site.

Merely designating a site does not mean a new airport project is under way, as the board has pointed out repeatedly.

Under the $1 million scope of work for the site search and study plan approved and funded by the FAA, the preferred site must be compared to the existing airport, which consultants Mead & Hunt concluded cannot meet FAA safety standards without being expanded outside the present site.

Expansion has been ruled out by the Hailey City Council and the Blaine County Commission.

Several residents of Camas and Lincoln counties continued to register opposition to an airport in their areas at the meeting Tuesday.

Novelist Judith Freeman, a part-time resident of the Fairfield area, used almost poetic eloquence in describing her opposition to an airport in Camas County.

Speaking virtually in a hush, she described the Camas Prairie area as a "beautiful, fragile environment" filled with wildlife, whose desolation regularly yields archaeological artifacts thousands of years old.

Airport Authority member Harlig was prompted to comment that Freeman's spoken appeal was as moving as written words in her novels.

David Konrad, a tireless opponent of an airport in Camas County, entered a lengthy letter into the record, but summarized it by saying Camas residents want the same consideration as Blaine County residents who oppose an airport in their neighborhoods. "No adverse impact on our community," he said.

A Lincoln County resident, Kay Billington, of Richfield, complained that because residents there don't read Blaine County newspapers, they had been unaware of the site selection project until recent months. She also said locating an airport in Lincoln County would create major environmental problems.

Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, also an Airport Authority member, told Billington that Lincoln County had representatives on the site selection committee who were responsible for briefing the community.

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