Friday, August 26, 2005

Pros and cons of potential Camas airport site debated

Express Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- To residents of this Camas County hamlet, the idea of a new mega-million-dollar airport being built east of town on the vast Camas Prairie involves really only one of two considerations at polar extremes.

To some, it would be good for the area's economy.

But others see it as the certain destruction of a pristine and serene quality of life that has lured residents fleeing the tensions of growing urban areas.

Those were the inescapable, dominant sentiments of some 80 area residents who turned out Wednesday night for a special Fairfield City Council meeting to air their feelings about so-called Site No. 13 designated as a potential airport locale to replace Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport.

Site 13 is east of Fairfield (population: 445) in unincorporated Camas County (estimated population 1,100 to 1,200) paralleling U.S. Highway 20.

A Friedman site selection committee picked Site 13 and two others—Site 9, located east of state Highway 75 north of Shoshone in Lincoln County, and Site 10, north of the Blaine-Lincoln counties line and east of Highway 75—for further study.

A Friedman delegation—Airport Authority Chairwoman Martha Burke, authority member Len Harlig and Airport Manager Rick Baird—appeared alongside the Fairfield council to explain the site selection process as well as reasons why Friedman must move.

Early in the two and a half hour meeting, Harlig told the audience that "Blaine County has no desire to impose an airport on your community," nor were the Friedman officials there "to debate or be proponents—only as a resource."

He explained that the Federal Aviation Administration had found Friedman below standards for handling increasingly larger aircraft, and gives two alternatives—expand the current facility or find a new one to meet standards.

Both the city of Hailey and Blaine County, which own the airport, have rejected expanding Friedman, Harlig said.

He also said that whatever site is picked and approved by the FAA, "a new airport isn't going to be Los Angeles International" but "very similar to Friedman" and built on 600 to 1,200 acres. Friedman operates on 230 acres.

Are local taxes required to support an airport, asked Fairfield Mayor David Hanks.

Friedman is self-sufficient with FAA dollars and tenant fees, Harlig and Baird explained.

One of the first speakers, Monty Camgiamilla, who favors the airport, suggested a "real simple solution to stop this bickering and infighting" would be a vote. (Mayor Hanks later told the Mountain Express that would be discussed at a Sept. 6 council meeting.)

Shelly Marolf, the wife of Fairfield Councilman Scott Marolf, said she favors the airport because she'd like to see job opportunities for her four children.

Camas County Fire Chief Wayne Marolf said an airport would help generate tax revenues that could help improve emergency services and even build a new school for expected population growth.

More support came from Ed Terrazas, who said he owns 480 acres near Site 13 that might be adversely affected by airport operations and also lives in the Woodside area adjoining Friedman Memorial in Hailey. "We all have to make some sacrifice," he said.

Of the 29 people who spoke, however, those opposed to an airport outnumbered those favoring it by nearly 2-to-1. A destroyed quality of life was the complaint of opponents.

Mel Fletcher drew a portrait of Fairfield becoming another Hailey or Ketchum. "How many here," he turned to the audience and asked, "would like to live" there?"

Joe Adamsky called a potential airport "a 600-acre parking lot" that Camas County doesn't need.

Looking up and seeing the Milky Way at night is a symbol of Camas County life, said Claude Ballard, a former mayor of the city of Bellevue who now lives in Fairfield.

Bonnie Fox, who said she lived near an unidentified airport for 20 years, called them "noisy, dirty, polluters" that also can increase heart attacks.

Cheryl Bennett said her family is "hardworking" and "honest" and wants to live in Camas County. But she said they'd leave the county if an airport was approved.

The final, most eloquent opposition came from novelist Judith Freeman, a part-time Camas resident, who described Camas County as "a remarkable place. Not one person came here to get rich. (They came) because it is a gorgeous, pure, remarkable place and worth preserving.

"We think of the animals, the birds, children, life itself. It's a birthright."

Resort interests in Blaine County also oppose the Camas site as too far (50 miles) from the Wood River Valley's business activities.

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