Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Camas County adds ‘airport’ to proposed comp plan

Official: Plan not connected to FAA site search

Express Staff Writer

A commercial flight takes off from Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

The Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission has added fuel to speculation about a new airport being proposed near Fairfield by adding an "airport overlay" to its comprehensive plan at its March 25 meeting.

This follows the release of letter written by Fairfield Mayor David Hanks to the Federal Aviation Administration expressing an interest in sponsoring or co-sponsoring an airport to replace Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport.

Hanks told the Mountain Express there's no connection between his letter to the FAA and the county's airport overlay addition to the comp plan.

"This is the first I've heard" of the county airport overlay, Hanks said.

Hanks also took exception to a March 26 Mountain Express story, saying some of his remarks in an interview were taken out of context. He was especially critical of the newspaper's highlighting his quote, "The Sun Valley Co. wants it all," referring to the Blaine County resort's major role in tourism in the region. Hanks said Fairfield and Camas County want to be part of finding a new airport site and planning a facility, even if Camas County is not selected by the FAA.

He also challenged the claim by David Konrad, of the Preserve the Camas Prairie airport protest group, that county residents oppose an airport 2-to-1.

Camas County P&Z administrator Dwight Butlin said the new airport overlay to the county comp plan "has nothing to do" with the FAA's current study of potential sites for a replacement facility for Friedman Memorial.

"We don't care about that," he told the board, as heard on a tape of the board meeting.

He said the overlay would cover "runways, private air strips."

Butlin, however, declined to answer questions later in an interview with the Mountain Express about the overlay, who suggested it and where in Camas County it might apply. He said it would be discussed publicly at a P&Z public hearing on April 21.

Earlier, Camas County Commission Chairman Ken Backstrom told the Express that the county has no interest in sponsoring an airport along the lines proposed for Fairfield by the mayor in his letter to the FAA. Nearby Lincoln County and the cities of Shoshone, Dietrich and Richfield have informed the FAA they have no interest in sponsoring an airport.

Sites in eastern Camas County and western Blaine—so-called sites No. 12 and 13—that are in close proximity were among 16 locales designated as potential airport locations when a 50-member site selection committee narrowed down areas to preferred choices. So-called site 10 in southern Blaine County just east of state Highway 75 won the top spot.

The FAA has determined that Friedman is not in full compliance with federal safety standards and has ordered that the field either be expanded or replaced.

Opponents of an airport in Camas County, including Konrad, have speculated that actor Bruce Willis, who offered property he owns near Fairfield for an airport, and cellular phone titan Bruce McCaw, Camas County's largest landowner through corporate names, want to build an airfield to help boost travel to Willis' Soldier Mountain ski resort.

Fairfield Mayor Hanks has confirmed he has discussed private financing of an airport with a number of persons, and has strongly supported expanded activities at Soldier Mountain as a major economic goal. But he declined to name the potential private investors.

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