Friday, October 21, 2005

Airport board eyeballs prospective sites

'Seeing is better than imagining'

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, with consultants and members of the public, gaze out Wednesday over site No. 10. The site in southern Blaine County is one of three sites the authority is reviewing as a potential locale to relocate Friedman. Photo by Willy Cook

Driving over rutted, rocky, dusty back roads, standing in windy, desolate fields of honey-colored grass, and climbing a knoll to take in a sweeping panorama of uninhabited valleys, Friedman Memorial Airport Authority members saw for themselves the three sites tagged as potential locales for a large new airport.

"Seeing is better than imagining," said authority chairwoman Martha Burke after the four-and-a-half hour tour Wednesday that covered more than 100 miles in Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties. She called herself "a visceral learner." Other authority members on the tour agreed that eyeballing the sites picked as preferences by a citizens site selection committee after a year of study was indispensable.

"I can't imagine making a decision on a site without visiting" it, said member Tom Bowman, also a member of the Blaine County Commission.

"All the sites have possibilities," said member Len Harlig, who added cryptically, "matched by defects."

Authority vice chair Susan McBryant, the mayor of the city of Hailey, agreed "the three sites have wide opportunities."

None indicated which site they preferred.

The all-afternoon tour on a small commuter bus presaged by a week a special Wednesday, Oct. 26, authority meeting at which the governing body is scheduled to vote its preferred site or sites for intensive environmental impact study (EIS) by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Friedman Memorial Airport does not comply with FAA safety standards that require wider separation of runway and taxiways to accommodate larger airliners with faster landing speeds. Blaine County and the city of Hailey, operators of Friedman Memorial, have voted not to expand the 230-acre airport.

Because the authority considered the site tour an official meeting, airport staff assistant Alysia Heyer held a small digital audio recorder in front of anyone asking a question or making a statement. The recording will be available to the public.

Authority member Dr. Ron Fairfax was absent. He told Airport Manager Rick Baird that as an aircraft owner he had flown over all three sites many times.

Others on the tour were Blaine County Commissioner Dennis Wright; airport attorney Barry Luboviski; Sun Valley Aviation executive Michael Rasch and the aviation company's manager, Melidee Wright; two representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, Tara Hagen and Lori Armstrong; Idaho Fish and Game agent Mike McDonald, Baird and several airport staff members as well as several news reporters.

Sites in order of Wednesday's visit were No. 13, about 10 miles east of Fairfield paralleling U.S. highway 20 in Camas County; No. 10, south of the Timmerman Hills and about three miles east of state Highway 75 inside Blaine County; and No. 9, about two miles east of Highway 75 and north of Shoshone, just south of the Blaine-Lincoln county line.

The site committee scored No. 9 best, No. 10 second and No. 13 last.

However, airport consultant Chuck Sundby, of the firm of Toothman-Orton, conceded in reply to a question asked by Sun Valley Aviation's Rasch that site No. 13 offered greater potential for development of a 600- to 1,200-acre airport complex, with land available for more expansion if needed. It has 25 miles of unobstructed east-west view for instrument approaches.

Bruce Willis, the actor, has offered a small portion of the land required for site No. 13 cost-free to the authority. Willis also has a lease on nearby Soldier Mountain as a day ski resort.

Strident opposition to the Camas site has erupted, however, among residents who fiercely defend the area's remoteness and quiet. The Camas County Commission has made no decision on whether they would approve land use for an airport.

Neither have Lincoln County commissioners decided whether to support site No. 9 for an airport.

Site No. 10 may present the most obstacles. The Shoshone-Bannock tribe has hinted it would oppose an airport there, since a treaty with the tribe guarantees it perpetual access to the BLM land for hunting and fishing.

The day began on a half-humorous note. Consultant Sundby told the group at the outset of the inspection tour that the sites "each had distinctive personalities." Harlig, always quick with a rejoinder, replied, "I had three relatives with separate distinct personalities—and I didn't like any of them."

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