Wednesday, June 10, 2009

'Trust' in peril, Ketchum councilman warns FMAA

Conn raps 'Hailey-dominated' airport board

Express Staff Writer

Last week's decision by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority to postpone further discussion on what type of body should govern a new airport touched off a salvo of prickly e-mails from Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn and Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, who want a new board created and seated quicker to participate in the decisions of a new facility.

Conn told airport authority Vice Chairman Tom Bowman that "trust is wearing thin." He called delaying decisions on a new governing body "an extreme disappointment," and told Bowman "the Hailey-based and dominated FMAA is not the right body to make these decisions on behalf of all county citizens."

In a separate e-mail to Bowman, Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall affirmed that the notes, including a followup from Conn, represented the stance of the City of Ketchum.

Conn, Willich and Ketchum real estate executive Dick Fenton were at the airport authority meeting on Tuesday, June 2, and apparently were prepared to speak when the delay was decided. They then departed.

Conn, who is not running for re-election, has disavowed any interest in serving on an airport board.

Hailey is represented on the authority by Chairwoman Martha Burke and Secretary Susan McBryant. The city of Hailey was the original recipient of land deeded by the pioneer Friedman family for an airport. Along with Blaine County, Hailey is a signatory to a joint powers agreement to manage the airport and comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations and be accountable for grant funds.

Bowman had chaired a Blue Ribbon Commission, of which Conn and representatives from other valley cities were members, seeking outlines of a new authority to manage a new airport, which proponents say could be built by 2017. The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority would make its own recommendation to Blaine County on the board structure. The county probably would be the new field's operator, since it would be outside the city of Hailey.

After copies of Conn's e-mail were sent to Willich, members of the Ketchum council and airport authority member Len Harlig, who had argued for delaying discussions of the new governing body, Willich responded, "Very nicely said." He also wrote that a new body should begin making decisions affecting a new airport "like next month, or within 90 days to be more realistic."

Actually, an FAA-required environmental impact statement study won't be completed for at least another year, perhaps longer. The EIS would lead to a recommended site, which then must be approved by the FAA, and land would need to be acquired by the county. Part of the EIS study's various phases will include questions posed by Willich and Conn involving economics and disposal of the present airport.

Bowman replied to Conn via e-mail, "Of course I'm disappointed that you're disappointed." He pointed out that not only the Friedman authority but every valley city had been asked to recommend its vision for a new airport authority. Bowman also noted that the FAA had cautioned the authority not to allow any interference with or pressure on the EIS study.

Bowman wrote, "As you and Dave Chase learned the hard way, having a great idea is often not sufficient for success." Conn and Sun Valley City Councilman Dave Chase had launched an attempt to merge the cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum.

Asked by the Mountain Express for a response to Conn's e-mail, authority member Harlig said, "I'm glad he realizes the urgency of having a relocated airport sooner rather than later. However, the EIS completion date is more than two years away, and opening the relocated airport will take three or more years after that. So let's take a little time now to be sure we have the right governance model in place to implement the expertise of the EIS professionals."

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