Friday, April 11, 2008

FAA awaits Fairfield airport proposal

Express Staff Writer

The city of Fairfield apparently has not followed through with its announced intentions in March to possibly become a sponsor or co-sponsor of a large airport in Camas County.

Cayla Morgan, the Seattle-based Federal Aviation Administration official overseeing a study that eventually will lead to a recommended replacement site for Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, said Thursday the FAA has not received any correspondence from Fairfield outlining its capability to sponsor or co-sponsor an airport. The FAA requires proof of property ownership, financial resources, consultation with users such as airlines, public hearings and the like.

She also said she had left messages for Fairfield Mayor David Hanks to determine the status of the city's interest since he wrote the letter following a March 19 City Council meeting approving the quest to become an airport sponsor. Hanks had not returned her calls as of Thursday, she said.

In an effort to determine whether the city has abandoned its airport ambitions or Hanks plans to correspond belatedly with the FAA, the Mountain Express attempted unsuccessfully to reach Hanks Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and also left voice mail messages the same days that have not been returned. His business office said he was either with customers or at lunch.

The FAA had a March 31 deadline for communities to express an interest in airport sponsorship. Morgan said, however, that although Fairfield had missed the deadline, it would still accept its proposal. Other communities—Lincoln County and the cities of Richfield, Dietrich and Shoshone—notified the FAA they are not interested in sponsoring an airport.

In the days following Hanks' original letter to the FAA, a flurry of speculation focused on the role that actor Bruce Willis, who operates the Soldier Mountain ski resort, and mega-millionaire and philanthropist Bruce McCaw, reportedly Camas County's largest landowner, would play in developing an airport. With a budget of less than a million dollars a year, Fairfield seemed unsuited to build and operate a regional airport. Camas County has said it is not interersted in being an airport sponsor.

In an hour-long interview with the Express, McCaw expressed admiration for Camas County's economic future and as a possible airport site, but denied he was directly involved in any discussions to build one.

Morgan also said Thursday that a draft report on acceptability of potential airport sites has been submitted to the FAA by Landrum & Brown, the consulting firm conducting a mandatory environmental impact statement study on sites. The results will be made public sometime around mid-April, but cannot be discussed publicly now, she said.

Another issue may bedevil any thoughts of an airport in Camas County. Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee has issued a preliminary injunction against Camas processing any land-use applications under its new zoning ordinance, while condemning two members of the County Commission of "egregious" behavior in voting on rezoning that included property they own.

Judge Elgee has set May 20 for trial of further allegations Camas brought by Camas developer George Martin Jr.

Attorney Christopher Simms, representing Martin, indicated this week that if Judge Elgee agrees other abuses may have occurred, the county's zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan could be in jeopardy.

The Camas Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet April 21, and among the agenda items is adding an airport overlay to the comprehensive plan.

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