Friday, September 23, 2005

Airport meeting should be on everyone's agenda

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority is expecting a packed house for the mother of all meetings on options to create a modern airport to serve the Sun Valley area.

The meeting, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Hailey Community Campus Auditorium at 6 p.m., is an opportunity for everyone to examine work done by the authority and its Site Selection Committee to find the best way to meet federal requirements for airports where middle-sized regional jets land.

The meeting is also a hearing in which the public may comment on the work and the airport options offered to date.

Everyone who can should go and educate themselves on the work that's been done and the issues involved because the final decision will have far-reaching consequences on life and business in the valley for decades to come.

The mere mention of a new airport has set alarm bells ringing. It's also sent minds reeling with the complexities of both the known and unknown consequences of a new airport. It's become a volatile cocktail of controversy.

The current airport doesn't meet today's standards for regional jet operations, even though it does receive them on an occasional basis. The local airport authority has ruled out expansion at the present site.

Hailey and Bellevue residents cringe at any suggestion that the valley would be well-served by a larger airport at the current location. They react with relief and enthusiasm to the prospect of getting rid of their noisy neighbor.

South county residents rise up in arms when anyone suggests a new airport might be located anywhere near their backyard.

Engineers and pilots caution that mountain weather combined with the hills on both sides of the airport sometimes makes flying here a riskier than average proposition for both passengers and nearby neighborhoods.

Businesses dependent upon a strong tourism economy worry that a distant airport could reduce visitation, increase the cost of a plane ticket and thus reduce the willingness of airlines to provide service to the area. They worry further that any increased airline demands for multi-million-dollar local subsidies could far exceed their ability to pay.

Other counties are still unsure they wish to welcome an airport that would inevitably change their communities.

There are hundreds of questions surrounding a future airport that need to be answered, and answered well.

At best, this meeting may provide some answers, educate more people, and set a course to answering questions that remain. At worst, the meeting will leave important questions unanswered and the public frustrated.

We hope for the best.

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