Friday, November 7, 2008

Free BLM land could sweeten airport’s financial plans

Several sites still under scrutiny

Express Staff Writer

It may be a long shot, but the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority will attempt to have Congress literally donate a huge tract of land in south Blaine County for a new airport.

As much as 2,400 acres of Bureau of Land Management property would be involved.

At Tuesday's monthly meeting of the governing board, airport authority Vice Chairman Tom Bowman initiated the idea of trying to add a land grant request to an omnibus spending bill to be considered by Congress later this month. Bowman said the 1,000-plus-page legislation already includes a proposal to donate federal land in southern Idaho for an unspecified local project.

Bowman, who subbed for authority chair Martha Burke while she was in Montana awaiting the birth of a grandchild, was given the board's go-ahead to ask the Idaho delegation to also insert the request for airport land in the legislation.

If approved, the land gift would accelerate development of the airport, which the airport authority has said could be built and operating by 2017 or even earlier, depending on whether obstacles pop up.

Free land also would allow the authority or a successor airport governing body to sell FAA-financed land at the present airport for perhaps several tens of millions of dollars and use those funds for construction of a new facility, now estimated to cost well over $100 million and increasing by the year.

If the request fails this time, airport attorney Barry Luboviski said chances of success on a second request would be improved.

Friedman Memorial now consists of land deeded for an airport by the pioneer Friedman family and acreage thereafter bought with FAA funds to expand the field to its present size.

Seeking the donated land is conditioned, Bowman said, on whether site 10-A, east of state Highway 75 and just north of the Blaine-Lincoln counties line, is finally approved by the FAA. An environmental impact statement study now under way is evaluating two additional potential sites in Blaine County—one in the Bellevue Triangle south of the city of Bellevue and the other just inside the western boundary of Blaine County alongside U.S. Highway 20.

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