Friday, September 30, 2005

Airport town hall meeting vents pro & con views

Arguments unchanged over moving or keeping Friedman

Express Staff Writer

From left to right: Gary Coats (Chief executive Marketron International), Wally Huffman (General manager Sun Valley Co.), Rick Baird (Manager Friedman Memorial Airport) Photo by David N. Seelig

"We've taken the devil's dollar and now the devil is back collecting. The devil is telling us to comply" with new safety standards to accommodate faster, larger airliners using the field." - Keith Roark, Hailey attorney

Nearly 300 concerned citizens showed up Wednesday night to hear Friedman Memorial Airport Authority's rationale for a new airport and to hear several dozen speakers repeat why they support or oppose moving Friedman Memorial.

One of the night's final speakers, Hailey attorney Keith Roark—a former airport attorney, former Hailey mayor and former Blaine County attorney—bluntly said, "We don't have a choice."

Alluding metaphorically to the Federal Aviation Administration's funding of Friedman for years, he said:

"We've taken the devil's dollar and now the devil is back collecting. The devil is telling us to comply" with new safety standards to accommodate faster, larger airliners using the field.

Expanding the Hailey airfield, Roark said, would mean "we're going to pay more, with severe impact on people of Hailey, and the airport will not be nearly as functional."

According to airport staff, some 270 persons signed up at the door for the meeting held in the 575-seat Community Campus Auditorium. The meeting began about 6:20 p.m. and ended at 9:15, far earlier than the scheduled 10 p.m. closing, after the audience began trickling out after 8 p.m.

During the first 40 minutes, Airport Manager Rick Baird and consultants Charles Sundby and Tom Schnetzer, using a huge video screen for graphics of the existing airport, outlined choices facing the Airport Authority in the face of FAA declarations the airport does not meet its standards.

One option presented would involve expansion of the airport eastward for more separation between the runway and two taxiways, which would require relocation of state Highway 75 and condemnation of some 88 Woodside-area homes. It also would require lengthening the runway by 1,000 feet into the Flying Hat Ranch property. The airport would have to be closed for eight months. Cost: $130 million.

A sub-option would be to relocate Highway 75 along Bradford Road on the west side of the airport in order to accommodate some eastward expansion. Cost: $114 million.

Expanding Friedman to the west would require destruction of most existing airport facilities—terminal, hangars and parking lots—and would close the airport for three years. Cost: $99 million.

And finally, possibly moving the airport southward toward Bellevue would require acquisition of surrounding suburban acreage currently in private hands. Cost: $132 million.

However, to a suggestion from the audience that Highway 75 could be routed through a tunnel the length of the airport, Sundby said the estimated cost for that alone is $100 million.

"No matter what you spend at this site," Sundby told the audience, "it doesn't change" impacts on the surrounding population and development encroachment on the airport. Nor would it change the fact that Friedman is located in mountainous terrain that places it in what amounts to a three-sided box with aircraft arriving and departing primarily in one direction.

A new airport at a site of 600 to 1,200 acres is estimated to cost $100 million and involve seven to 10 years of planning and construction, the Airport Authority has said, with 95 percent of the costs expected to be borne by the FAA. A citizens committee spent a year studying 16 possible sites for a new facility, then designated three for further considerations: one east of Fairfield in Camas County, one in south Blaine County below Timmerman Hills and one in Lincoln County north of Shoshone.

Expanding Friedman is moot as far as the airport's owners, Blaine County and the city of Hailey, are concerned. Both have adopted resolutions refusing to approve expansion.

Baird and the consultants as well as members of the Airport Authority fielded questions written in advance by the audience.

To the question of why Friedman can't limit aircraft, Baird responded that the FAA won't permit it.

Are there any weather limitations at the three proposed sites? Each provides unobstructed instrument approaches, Baird said.

The question period then was followed by comments from the public limited to three minutes.

The evening's loudest applause erupted after a short statement from Gary Coats, chief executive of Marketron International, a broadcast software company with 105 Hailey employees and another 130 in five other U.S. and Canadian cities.

Coats, a Woodside resident, said it is "outrageous to think people would be displaced from their homes" by expanding Friedman, adding that "I for one would not want to be part of that community."

In a later interview, Coats said his statement should not be interpreted as a threat to move his company. Instead, he said, "If my employees are going to be unsafe in their futures, as their employer I have to figure out how to make them more stable." Coats, however, believes a new airport will be built elsewhere, explaining that unreliable Friedman weather requires traveling employees to fly 50 percent of their trips out of Boise or Twin Falls, and 100 percent of the time for his travel during winter months.

The most outspoken corporate critic of a new distant airport, Wally Huffman, general manager of Sun Valley Co., reserved his opening comments for criticism of "a lot of local media," which he said "have misrepresented what my views are." "Never have we ever suggested or would we support moving 88 homes. I want to make it clear to everybody I'm available for comment by phone. I'm perfectly able to stick my own foot in my mouth."

He invited the Airport Authority to be "completely committed to working with the resort to sort out this complex issue" and "to improve our current airport service."

Another critic of relocating Friedman to a distant site, real estate executive Dick Fenton, renewed his ongoing appeal for revenue subsidies for air carriers.

Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller told the panel that it's "sad it (the airport debate) has become a north-south (county) issue. It's important to the economics of the entire valley. We need to find a location that works" and ensure "we don't lose our (airline) service."

General aviation interests weighed in heavily at the meeting. Wade Black, CEO of SevenBar, parent company of Friedman's Sun Valley Aviation, appealed to retain Friedman for the growing corporate and general aviation market. "We made a tremendous investment" in new facilities, he said. He added that he considers himself "a great believer" in Friedman's future as a major economic force.

Likewise, Roger Cohen, vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, appealed to the Airport Authority to remain "flexible" about the future of Friedman.

A corporate pilot, Pam Rheinschild, and Carlton Green, head of a local pilots group, emphasized the need for continued operation of Friedman. Green also said he wanted to "admonish the board" for alluding to "images of airplanes flying into buildings" in the Hailey area.

Several speakers from Camas and Lincoln counties vigorously opposed developing an airport in their areas, citing threats to the environment and interruptions of the quiet to which they're accustomed.

One of the move-Friedman activists, Pepin Corso-Harris, cited several fatal accidents of small aircraft in the past as evidence of Friedman's risks to surrounding homes and businesses.

Identifying himself as a longtime visitor and a member of the Seattle planning commission, Martin Kaplan said if a distant airport is built, he and others might choose other resort towns for their homes.

The authority has said it will decide by the first of the year what site or sites it will recommend to the FAA for further study as preferred locales for a new airport.

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