Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New airport site study launched

Environmental Impact Statement to take 3 or more years to complete

Express Staff Writer

Bill Watson works for the Airports Division of the Federal Aviation Administration for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Watson said any site designated for a new airport must have a ?sponsor? in order to accept federal funds and federal regulations. Photo by Willy Cook

The federal-required study leading to a recommended site for an airfield to replace Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport was launched Monday night with a volley of spirited questions and opinions from supporters and critics of a new facility. The grueling Environmental Impact Statement study is expected to take up to three years.

Most questions and observations thrown at a Federal Aviation Administration official and consulting firm president were dominated by a large contingent of Ketchum and Sun Valley businessmen who've generally questioned the wisdom of placing a new airport too far from the region's tourism hubs.

However, Wally Huffman, general manager of Sun Valley Co., took what some saw as a contradictory position. He suggested that if a new site to replace Friedman is picked, the FAA should consider a regional airport jointly operated by Twin Falls and Blaine counties. But, as a member of the citizen site selection committee, Huffman had insisted a new airport couldn't be more than 40 minutes from Sun Valley Resort.

Following the meeting, Huffman explained that a jointly owned airport would make a new airport financially successful. Also, Huffman brusquely suggested the city of Hailey ought to be removed from any future role once a new site is determined. Huffman also claimed the airport authority "didn't look very seriously about moving the airport to the west" of its present location.

However, the FAA's Bill Watson said that scenario had been rejected several times over the 20 years he's been with the FAA's Washington-Oregon-Idaho section office outside Seattle.


Most questions and opinions—eight in all—came from Dick Fenton, a Ketchum real estate executive and nominal point man for those opposed to closing Friedman. He dwelled on his favored target of attack, "minimum revenue guarantees" for airlines that might need subsidies. Watson and consultant Mark Perryman, of Ohio-based Landrum & Brown, explained—as airport manager Rick Baird has explained to Fenton over the past year and a half since the topic was raised—that the FAA and Friedman don't provide MRGs. They are the responsibility of local business sources.

Two residents of Camas County, Dan Kenney and Dave Konrad, told Watson and Perryman most Camas residents do not want an airport site in their county.

Bert Redfern, a resident of Hailey's Woodside residential area adjoining the airport, implored consultants to consider the fate of some 87 homeowners who'd lose their houses if Friedman was expanded to meet FAA safely standards.

Last year, a Friedman citizen site selection committee designated an area just north of Blaine County's southern boundary, east of state Highway 75 and south of Timmerman Hill, as its preferred locale for a new airport. However, the EIS will evaluate 16 or more possible sites in the Wood River Valley region.

The Hailey airport is living on borrowed time. It was not designed for larger aircraft such as the Bombardier Q400 operated by Horizon Air, but continues operating by clearing the taxiway whenever a Q400 is landing or taking off to provide more clearance.

Watson and Perryman said Friedman would be considered as an alternative site, although the city of Hailey and Blaine County have voted to close it, in their role as the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

Watson pointed out that any site designated for a new airport must have a "sponsor"—such as the current city-county owners of Friedman—to accept federal funds and federal regulations.

Landrum & Brown, which specializes in airport engineering and consulting, has done at least 15 airport EISs, Perryman said. Six other firms with specific specialties have been hired to assist in the study.

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