Wednesday, November 5, 2008

County takes step toward land for new airport

New governing body also on agenda

Express Staff Writer

Cautious informal steps were taken Tuesday by the Blaine County Commissioners to begin the process of acquiring land for a new airport and for creating a new system of governance to succeed the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority when Friedman Memorial is closed.

In the first decision, the commissioners agreed informally to amend a joint powers agreement between Blaine County and the city of Hailey to include a provision allowing the airport authority to begin the process of acquiring U.S. Bureau of Land Management acreage that would be used for a new airport.

Commissioner Larry Schoen questioned why the land acquisition would be needed if so-called site 10-A, in south Blaine County east of state Highway 75, is not picked by the Federal Aviation Administration for a new airport. Commissioner Angenie McCleary also wondered if gearing up to buy the land would be interpreted as pressure on the FAA to designate site 10-A.

Bowman pointed out that the acquisition process could take as long as five years, and if the airport authority waits until completion of an environmental impact statement study now underway to recommend a site before beginning the land purchase process, the Wood River Valley by then might well have lost air service because of restrictions on Friedman. He said if site 10-A is not selected, the airport authority is not obliged to buy the land.

Airport authority member Len Harlig, who was at the meeting as an observer, concurred.

Bowman also said that laying the groundwork for purchase of the land would create a "notice of realty action" that would prevent other parties from attempting a purchase. Bowman said the FAA will rely on the EIS for a site recommendation and not be pressured by any plan to acquire land.

The proposed amendment change was scheduled for discussion at the airport authority's monthly meeting Tuesday. Bowman is a county represeentative on the body.

On the second issue, Bowman proposed, and his colleagues agreed, that the first steps should be taken to decide what sort of body would govern a new airport. With a new airport outside the city of Hailey, Hailey would no longer have a role.

Harlig again joined in from the floor with a history of the airport authority. He said in the early 1990s, the airport was managed by an 11-member board appointed by cities, the county and the state. He called it a "politically driven" system that proved to be a "disaster." He suggested avoiding a repeat.

Commissioner McCleary suggested a new governing body should be comprised of elected officials. Bowman agreed, saying elected officials have their finger on the pulse of a community.

Bowman was given the go-ahead by his colleagues to organize meetings with valley elected officials to seek recommendations on the structure of a governing board.

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