Friday, March 7, 2008

Mayors throw weight behind airport study

Shoshone, Richfield not interested in sponsoring new airport

Express Staff Writer

The mayors of Sun Valley and Ketchum reportedly rejected a suggestion by an unidentified board member of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau to intervene in a multi-million dollar, U.S.-funded study to find a site to replace Friedman Memorial Airport with a new field.

Instead, Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich and Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall are said to have told chamber directors attending an annual executive planning retreat at the Sun Valley Inn last week that they were comfortable with the process and would let the environmental impact statement unfold. The EIS, expected to be completed in several years, is now underway under supervision of managing consultant Landrum & Brown.

A word picture of the exchange with the mayors was provided Tuesday night to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority by member Len Harlig, the authority's liaison with the chamber, who attended the chamber meeting.

Harlig, however, declined to identify the board member who suggested that the mayors intervene on the EIS.

Harlig said his purpose in relating the incident was to commend the two mayors for their support.

In the past, Hall and Sun Valley's then-Mayor Jon Thorson once went so far as to suggest in a letter to the airport authority that they lacked confidence in impending studies and proposed a separate study. The idea died almost instantly. They confirmed at the time that the letter had been crafted with the help of real estate executive Dick Fenton, a persistent and outspoken critic of a new airport, who also confirmed he'd help craft the letter.

Willich and Hall were said by their offices to be on vacation and unreachable to confirm the exchange at the chamber meeting.

Meanwhile, the cities of Shoshone and Richfield wrote letters saying they are not interested in sponsoring a new airport in Lincoln County. A new airport would require sponsorship and financial obligations of a government entity. Friedman is "owned" by Blaine County and the city of Hailey.

Also, airport manager Rick Baird said the EIS consultants would buy about $150,000 in weather-measuring equipment to examine, among other climate conditions, fog intensity in Camas County east of the Wood River Valley, the Bellevue Triangle and south of U.S. Highway 20 in the Timmerman Hills area. The latter has been designated as the preferred airport site.

Also at the airport authority meeting:

· May 17 was announced as the day for a disaster drill involving the airport and other Blaine County agencies. Details of the drill's scenario are kept secret, but the events try to achieve near reality to test the skills of police, firefighters, emergency medical units and airport staff.

· Costs of removing and storing snow on and off the airport during the recent heavy snowfalls totaled about $75,000.

· On the advice of airport attorney Barry Luboviski, authority member Len Harlig and airport manager Rick Baird can serve as liaisons with the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, which has been formed to promote and develop more air service for the valley. However, serving as directors of the group, Luboviski said, would create possible conflicts of interests.

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