Following a meeting Wednesday, state of Idaho and U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials agreed that more study would be needed on a proposed land swap to provide a huge tract for a replacement of Friedman Memorial Airport in south Blaine County.
BLM Idaho Director Tom Dyer was quoted as saying during the talks that such a swap would be a win-win—that state public lands exchanged for federal public lands would keep all the lands in public hands.
A swap would avoid BLM land from being sold and incurring an enormous acquisition cost for the proposed new field.
Meeting Wednesday at the BLM's Boise office, were Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman, who is also vice chairman of Friedman's airport authority; airport Manager Rick Baird; Dyer; BLM Twin Falls Area Manager Bill Baker; BLM Shoshone District Field Manager Lori Armstrong; Deputy BLM Idaho Director Susan Giannettino; Kathy Foster, of BLM's Lands and Realty Department; Deputy Idaho Department of Lands Director Kathy Opp; and the department's Jerome Area manager, Tim Duffner.
The group focused on a specific land exchange—swapping 2,500 acres of its land in the so-called site 10-A area designated for a new airport in far south Blaine County near the Lincoln County line, east of state Highway 75, in exchange for 1,600 acres of state land just north of the Snake River in the Twin Falls area.
A swap requires dollar-for-dollar equivalent value in the two parcels, according to the BLM.
BLM officials told Bowman that the land-swap procedure might require one or two more years than an outright purchase and would entail study costs that must be paid by someone. Bowman said he told the group that he would investigate whether funds could be obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration and added to an environmental impact statement study now underway to finalize a new airport site.
Which entity would ultimately hold title to any swapped state land—the state, the airport's governing board or Blaine County—was not discussed.
Original estimates discussed by the airport authority suggested a new airport would need between 600 and 1,200 acres for basic operations. However, a larger tract would be used to create a buffer to prevent encroachment of development, such as occurred around Friedman Memorial.
Bowman, who recounted high points of the discussions, reiterated later in an interview that the community faces a ticklish balancing act.
Providing no major hitches develop, a new airport could be built and operating by 2014, he said. But SkyWest Airlines, the major air carrier serving Friedman with its Salt Lake City route, has indicated it probably will retire its Embraer Brasilia turbprop aircraft fleet that serves Friedman two years earlier in 2012. The replacement aircraft—small regional jets—might not be economical to operate out of Friedman.
Neither the airport board nor SkyWest have indicated whether an interim solution might be developed.