Friday, February 15, 2008

Consultants: Airport EIS critical

For some, question of economic impact still looms

Express Staff Writer

A Horizon Air flight takes off from Friedman Memorial Airport. Photo by Mountain Express

While city officials from Ketchum and Sun Valley now appear more willing to accept relocation of a new airport away from Hailey, serious concerns remain about the economic impact to the Wood River Valley.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13, consultant Landrum & Brown, hired by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct an environmental impact statement on choosing a new location for Friedman Memorial Airport, provided the mayors and city council members from Ketchum and Sun Valley with information on cost and timeline.

Also in attendance were representatives from Hailey and Blaine County—which together own the airport—Friedman Manager Rick Baird and Sun Valley Co. marketing director Jack Sibbach.

The meeting was one of a series being conducted with government officials in Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties. Mark Perryman, president of Landrum & Brown and project manager for the EIS, said the EIS is scheduled to be completed in about two years.

The study is estimated to cost $1.7 million, 95 percent of which will be paid for by the FAA. It will include research on climate, wildlife, terrain, economics and technical aspects of locating a new airport.

While the study comes with a sizable price tag, it pales in comparison with the cost of construction of a new airport, which Perryman put at upwards of $120 million.

Of this, Perryman said, the federal government would likely provide around $50 million to $60 million, with another $31 million coming from the sale of a portion of the Hailey property where Friedman is located. The remaining $40 million or so would come from other government grants, airport operating reserves, passenger facility charges and Blaine County.

Baird said in an interview that the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority's own feasibility study determined that no increase in taxes would be required to make up the difference.

The cost that has most worried some city officials is the potential effect on tourism if the airport is moved south of the Wood River Valley. In response to questions from elected officials at the meeting, Perryman said the EIS will address that.

While expansion of the current airport is being considered, it's looking more and more like a nonviable option due to size constraints brought about by state Highway 75 to the east, the Eccles ranch property to the south and the proximity of a light-industrial area to the north and west.

According to Perryman, his firm is considering about 16 sites, from which a "short list" of alternative sites will be designated for more in-depth analysis. While it will be sometime before that list is finalized, comment at previous meetings has favored a site south of Timmerman Hill, to the east of Magic Reservoir. That site in southern Blaine County is the "preferred" site of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

Perryman said he expects the FAA to render its record of decision on a site by 2010, with construction being completed by 2016.

The timeline is important. Dave Rickerson, Landrum & Brown's lead aviation planner, said the FAA wants all airports either in compliance with its standards, or clearly working toward them, by 2015.

While Perryman assured the councils that the Hailey airport is perfectly safe for the time being, he said it does not comply in a number of areas affecting the larger regional aircraft that have become more prevalent. Those include runway length and the buffer area around the runway and the airport itself.

These issues have led to certain restrictions, such as a prohibition against any other aircraft being on the taxiway when Horizon Air regional flights are taking off or landing.

Though Rickerson could not say what the FAA's reaction would be if the airport is not brought into compliance, he said it's possible that larger aircraft could be prohibited from using it. He assured the officials in attendance that everything is being done to keep that from happening.

"We're under extreme pressure to keep this moving forward," he said. "The EIS won't be for naught."

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