Friday, November 2, 2007

Economic summit could be ripping good food fight

Oceans, language, currency or political culture do not separate the cities of the Wood River Valley.

Yet, they are oceans apart in views about the nature of the valley's economy, where it's headed, and what it needs for health. It's a good bet that if supplied with enough Jello, the cities could have a ripping good food fight if they actually got together to try to bridge the gaps.

Jello or no Jello, they should talk.

The differences were stunningly evident during this fall's election campaigns. Candidates and constituents in each city not only hold different, but diametrically opposed, understandings of the valley's economy and its needs.

The future of Friedman Memorial Airport is just one example of where polar opposite viewpoints exist.

The city of Sun Valley seems united in a desire to keep Friedman Memorial Airport operating at its present site in Hailey. This is driven by concerns about the inconvenience of a more distant site and its potential to increase the cost of subsidizing airline seats and reduce commercial air service. The effects of airport expansion on Hailey—required to bring the airport into compliance with federal safety standards—are rarely mentioned.

The city of Hailey is rock-solid in its insistence that the airport must be moved elsewhere in order to bring peace and quiet to a place where jet noise can bring outdoor conversation to a stop. The costs of seat subsidies and any potential for reductions in commercial air service are rarely mentioned.

The cities also hold wildly differing views on community workforce housing.

Many Sun Valley residents hold the view that the city's only concern about the high cost of living in the valley should be for housing the emergency services workers necessary for the safety of Sun Valley residents. Otherwise, they look down-valley for a solution—or deny any problem.

In Ketchum, candidates and constituents acknowledge that the valley needs affordable community workforce housing to keep businesses and nonprofits staffed—and the community alive.

Even though Hailey has generated workforce housing units as developers brought new subdivisions into the city, it resents having to address the issues of housing and valley-wide transportation. The resentment lies in the perception that Ketchum and Sun Valley created the problems and should solve them.

Bellevue should moderate a valley-wide economic summit. It's always so preoccupied with its hand-to-mouth budget and the needs of its working residents, it could bring realism to any debate and help bridge the gaping divides that separate the cities that lie just minutes apart.

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