Friday, May 4, 2007

Details loom large in airport site study

Express Staff Writer

As the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority is discovering, the skills of a Philadelphia lawyer are needed to explain legalisms that are part and parcel of a federally mandated Environmental Impact Statement study of possible sites to replace the Hailey airport.

Such an attorney has been retained as special counsel by the airport board—Peter Kirsch, of the Denver firm of Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, known as the nation's largest legal practice specializing in airport law.

Kirsch was on hand for the airport authority's monthly meeting Tuesday night to wade through questions posed by board members, especially Len Harlig, a former county commissioner who meticulously combs every document in search of flaws or unclear meanings that could pose legal traps, and Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman.

At one point, Harlig said he was singling out certain phrases in the draft EIS scope of work to prevent "those few people who're trying to stop this (airport) relocation" from having "a platform to challenge the EIS." Harlig did not name "those few people," although the sharpest questions aimed at the EIS study came a week ago during a public meeting from Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Resort general manager, Dick Fenton, a Ketchum real estate executive, and Maurice Charlat, a former Ketchum City Council member.

Bowman said he was concerned about the "incestuous nature" among firms who bid unsuccessfully for the EIS contract and now are being called on to advise the airport authority and the Federal Aviation Administration on how much should be paid to the winning bidder, Ohio-based Landrum & Brown.

Would the losers propose unrealistically low or high fees?

No, said Kirsch to the "incest" worry and the fees. While it seems odd, the system is traditionally used and works well. Kirsch told the Mountain Express later that he estimates the ultimate fee will be $4 million for the EIS study, which may take three years.

Airport attorney Barry Luboviski added that the best sources of estimating fees are firms that're in the business. Two losing bidders for the Friedman EIS are being used to propose a fee. They are URS, a San Francisco-based worldwide engineering design corporation, and Mead and Hunt, a 100-year-old firm already acting as Friedman's consulting engineer firm and that lists more than 20 airport projects underway on its Web site.

On another note, Friedman Manager Rick Baird said the airport's FAA operating status may be in jeopardy. Baird said air carriers serving Friedman are not ordering smaller aircraft that comply with the field's safety standards. The FAA, he said, "may reevaluate" the airport's permission to allow larger Q400 turboprop airliners, such as operated by Horizon Air, to use the facility.

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