Friday, June 26, 2009

Willis airport not slated for commercial use

Jet-friendly airstrip proposed for Camas County

Express Staff Writer

Actor Bruce Willis has "no plan" for his proposed Soldier Field Airport in Camas County to become a commercial airfield, according to a Philadelphia consultant who has filed paperwork for Willis with the Federal Aviation Administration to build the 8,500-foot jet-friendly airstrip.

However, Laurence Bauman, of AECOM Transportation, did not totally rule out that possibility.

When asked if the Willis field could be a site for relocating Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Bauman said "that is something beyond our answer." He pointed out that an FAA-funded Environmental Impact Statement analysis now under way to designate a site "is a process ongoing."

In an interview with the Mountain Express, Bauman said Willis owns the land 12 miles east of Fairfield on which the actor proposes to develop a private runway. Bauman said he knew of no involvement of Seattle billionaire Bruce McCaw, regarded as the largest Camas County landowner, who once told the Express the rural area would be ideal for an airport.

Willis, a onetime prodigious investor in Blaine County who still maintains a home and businesses here, operates Soldier Mountain ski resort near Fairfield. An airport nearby presumably would allow high-end visitors closer and quicker access. The paperwork estimates monthly air traffic in five years at 150 jet operations, 150 turboprop and 200 propeller aircraft.

Bauman also said he has no information on the Friedman Airport Users Alliance (see separate story in today's Mountain Express) and its attempt to block the planned relocation of Friedman.

On the application to the FAA, Bauman listed Century Holding Corp., P.O. Box 937, Sun Valley, as the airport "proponent." He said he doesn't know who rents the post office box and was "told to use that box number" on the application. Bauman confirmed he works for Willis.

Construction of the airfield would begin in April 2010, the application reads, with completion set for June 2011.

Before work can begin, however, the FAA must conduct an airspace study to determine if the site interferes with any nearby airports or planned airports. The three finalist sites for Friedman's relocation will be included in that study.

At least one group, Preserve Camas Prairie, is organized and preparing to oppose the airfield as being disruptive to Camas County's rural lifestyle.

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