Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sparse public turnout for airport meeting


By PAT MURPHY
Express Staff Writer

Did the cold, drizzling rain keep attendance low for a "scoping" meeting at the Community Campus in Hailey Monday night to answer questions and take suggestions about a proposed new airport? Or has more than two years of often contentious public debate sated the public with more information that it now needs?

Either way, less than 50 people turned out to chat with Federal Aviation Administration officials and members of the consulting firm Landrum & Brown, which has the contract to manage an Environmental Impact Statement study to examine and recommend the best site for a new airport.

Bill Watson, the agency's Northwest region manager for planning and environmental and financial programs, led the three-member FAA team. Landrum & Brown had nine members on hand, led by executive Mark Perryman and Dave Rickerson.

The meeting was informal, with 16 display boards explaining the need for a new airport and the process that will be followed for at least two years, perhaps longer, to find a site that meets FAA safety and operational standards and passes muster on environmental and economic measurements as well as needs of the south central Idaho region.

Citizens attending the open house-type gathering could ask any of the FAA officials or consultants questions.

Two new mayors-elect were there: Wayne Willich, of Sun Valley, and Rick Davis, of Hailey. Fairfield Mayor David Hanks, who also had been a member of the now disbanded site selection committee, mingled and asked questions.

The most ardent critic of the probable closing of Friedman Memorial, real estate executive Dick Fenton, also a member of the site selection committee, buttonholed FAA and Landrum & Brown officials with familiar questions about minimum revenue guarantees for airlines operating at a new airport, plus opinions on how retaining Friedman might be less costly than a new field. The city of Hailey and Blaine County, the titular operators of the airport, have flatly ruled out keeping Friedman because of terrain, weather factors and design that make it unsafe by FAA standards.

Most questions involved asking the difference between an EIS and site selection (the EIS will provide a more precise study of candidate sites), why go through the EIS process, and the role of cities in the affected region.

As Watson explained, the EIS comes in phases. Federal law requires dozens of individual studies within the overall study. In fact, in addition to public input and participation, the EIS can include roles by 22 local municipal and county governments, four Native American tribal organizations, 15 state regulatory agencies and 11 federal agencies.

The estimated cost of the EIS is $2 million, although it might be more if the scope of study is expanded.

The only question asked during an open-floor part of the meeting during the last 30 minutes came from Jon Marvel, of Hailey, founder of the Western Watersheds Project, who questioned whether attention would be given to "sensitive" wildlife species such as the sage grouse. He was assured it would.

The deadline for submitting comments on this phase of the EIS is Jan. 15, 2008, and can be done by e-mail to Cayla.Morgan@faa.gov. The official Web site with an array of data is www.airportsites.net/SUN-EIS.




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