Wednesday, December 12, 2007

County, Hailey reaffirm airport relocation

Federal Aviation Administration officials requested vote

Express Staff Writer

A Horizon Air prop-jet takes off from the existing Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Earlier this week, the Blaine County Commission and the Hailey City Council both voted to reaffirm a 2005 decision by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority that designated a site south of the Bellevue Triangle as the preferred location for a new airport. Photo by Mountain Express

The Blaine County Commission gave its unanimous backing Tuesday to a resolution supporting the relocation of Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey to a location designated as "Site 10" in a rural area south of the Bellevue Triangle.

Joining the commissioners in a similar vote late on Monday was the Hailey City Council.

Both votes back an earlier decision by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority in October of 2005 that designated an area east of state Highway 75 and south of U.S. Highway 20 and Timmerman Hill as the preferred location to relocate the airport.

While the city of Hailey and Blaine County both own and operate Friedman Memorial Airport and manage it through the jointly created airport authority, the Federal Aviation Administration apparently doesn't recognize the body's authority to recommend where a new airport serving the Wood River Valley region should be located.

"They don't recognize the FMAA (Friedman Memorial Airport Authority) as the sponsor," County Commissioner Tom Bowman said.

So, because of this, FAA officials requested that the Hailey City Council and the Blaine County Commission vote to support the decision made by the airport authority.

"To make our preference perfectly clear," Bowman said.

The FAA has the final word on whether a new airport will be built.

While the resolution voted on by the County Commission states that they stand by the airport authority's 2005 decision, the discussion on Tuesday still brought up a number of issues.

Although the commissioners were careful to say they do not disagree with the airport authority's siting decision, they did make it clear that they would prefer to say more related to why certain areas of the county would be unsuitable for a relocated airport. These areas include Silver Creek as well as prime agricultural lands in the county.

The commissioners said they will likely consider sending a follow-up letter to the FAA stating the county's concerns about other sites that were considered during the lengthy feasibility study that led up to the airport authority's 2005 decision. That discussion could take place at the commission's regular meeting next week on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

His support for the airport authority's decision notwithstanding, County Commissioner Larry Schoen did note that other factors may need to be considered as part of the process to find an area for the proposed new airport. Schoen said other counties surrounding Blaine County also have a vested interest in the creation of a new regional airport and may become co-sponsors of such a facility.

"We're not the only growing county in the region," he said.

Schoen said that while the airport authority's recommendation states that Blaine County should be the location for the replacement airport, "that is not my hard and fast rule."

He said the county's neighbor to the south—Lincoln County—could also be a candidate site for a relocated regional airport.

Schoen said he's told other county commissioners that "they need to get going" to join in on the airport relocation discussion.

"And I believe they are," he said.

The facility planned as Friedman's replacement tentatively includes an 8,500-foot runway, improved all-weather landing navigational aids, fire and medical personnel, control tower, terminal, and terrain-free landing and takeoff corridors extending for miles. Most of the $80 million to $100 million cost would be shouldered by the FAA. It could open by 2016.

The plan to establish a new airport was put in place largely because the FAA determined that Friedman could not—over the long term—safely handle certain types of aircraft that use the facility unless it was expanded.

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