Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Debate over new airport should not be limited

Charles Conn is a member of the Ketchum City Council.


I was fascinated to read Friday's paper, in which Pat Murphy reported that "Conn wants separate county study on airport matters," since I never said any such thing.

Similarly, he reported that I said it is "patently absurd" for Blaine County commissioners to avoid making a decision on a replacement airport. What I actually said, in an e-mail copied to Mr. Murphy, was "while I am sure that intervention in the [Environmental Impact Statement] to sway some technical decisions one way or another is inappropriate, the idea that you as the county commissioners, and we as city officials and citizens, cannot have involvement in the decision making around the replacement airport is patently absurd. This is our airport and while the FAA is an important partner, they and their consultants must not be in a position to unilaterally decide matters."

I stand by this statement, and to put the record straight, it is the position of myself and the city of Ketchum to encourage the county commissioners to empanel the new airport authority suggested by the Blue Ribbon Panel they created, or to follow the recommendations of Friedman Memorial Airport Authority consultant Peter Kirsch and add three members from the rest of the Blaine County to the FMAA, to act as co-clients on the ongoing EIS. We believe that with many variables under consideration, from funding to environmental concerns, and a range of both technical answers and human interpretations for each one, it is critical to have an engaged and participating client in planning our new airport.  

Who the client is matters, since clients help to guide the consultant's work by evaluating intermediate work products and using the values, aims and aspirations of the community to make real-time tradeoffs. (For example, in site selection, is the distance from the resort hub more or less important than environmental impacts? How much capital-cost-overrun risk is this community willing to bear?).

We also believe that the existing Friedman board, formed as a special-purpose entity between the county and the city of Hailey, should not make all the decisions about the new airport for the whole county.  Since this is probably the largest capital project that Blaine County has ever undertaken, with impacts on every business and every taxpayer, it is of prime concern to have a representative body as the client.

Does this sound like radical stuff? Not to me either. But you wouldn't know from reading Mr. Murphy's coverage, which reports the controversy but not the substance of opinions that differ from his own. Another example is the letter to the FAA written by mayors Willich and Hall asking for clarification on the assumptions being used in the EIS. It received a tepid response that repeated points about the air carrier positions that are at odds with their published opinions (that minimum revenue guarantees will be required, and that they are concerned with leakage to Boise and Twin). It also indicated that a total of 12 pilots had been interviewed with regard to the assumptions about general aviation in the EIS. General aviation accounts for nearly 80 percent of Friedman flights and nearly 55 percent of revenues. Yet Mr. Murphy chose not to cover these points.

Decisions around a replacement airport will have deep and lasting impacts on our visitor-based economy and our taxpayers. Our citizens deserve balanced representation on the decision-making board—and balanced reporting of the facts without bias, fear or favor.

Editor's note: The Idaho Mountain Express stands by its story.

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