Friday, July 3, 2009

Board: Airport relocation debate is over

County, Friedman leaders say keeping Hailey facility is not an alternative

Express Staff Writer

From left to right, a subdued Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn and Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich listen to a discussion of airport relocation issues at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey on Wednesday. Many north valley officials continue to question the rationale and the information behind the move.

Opponents of relocating Friedman Memorial Airport to southern Blaine County may never come to terms with the move.

On Wednesday, they heard county leaders and members of the Hailey airport's governing body say that's just too bad. Their message: It's happening with or without their approval.

The missive came out of a joint meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority and Blaine County Commission. The meeting—advertised as a workshop to discuss who will govern a new airport for the region—was held at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Extending an olive branch to the opponents of the move was Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, who led the roughly 90-minute meeting. Schoen said he's always strived to bring the north and south ends of the Wood River Valley together, despite their often-divergent views.

Nevertheless, "Friedman is not a viable alternative" to a replacement facility, he said emphatically.

The statements Wednesday follow a June meeting in Sun Valley at which officials from the Federal Aviation Administration said the airport has to be moved. They rejected claims by relocation critics that Friedman could be modified to meet FAA regulations.

The FAA has determined that Friedman does not meet federal standards and would require a major expansion to be allowed to continue to accommodate aircraft such as the Bombardier Q400, used by Horizon Air. The agency is midway through drafting an environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine which of three designated replacement sites in the south county should house a new, larger airport.

At the Wednesday meeting, Schoen reacted to an advertisement in the Wednesday, July 1, edition of the Idaho Mountain Express in which opponents of the relocation said the plan is based on "inaccurate information." Schoen voiced strong displeasure with the ad, saying it included "misleading" and "untrue" statements.

Wondering aloud about who was behind the ad, Schoen said the time for discussing whether or not to relocate the airport should be at an end.

"There are some things we are really beyond," he said.

The issue of how and when a transition to a new governing body for the replacement airport should happen was, in the end, the focus of the discussion.

Listening in were figures who question the rationale behind the move—including Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn. They have also claimed their cities deserve more representation in the process. They were not given a chance to comment, something Schoen apologized for.

Former Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig, now a member of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, echoed some of Schoen's comments. Harlig spoke at length about claims that the interests of Ketchum and Sun Valley are not being represented adequately in the relocation process. He said those claims are "demonstrably wrong."

The Blaine County Commission—which has authority over the transition process because the county will be the sole sponsor of the new airport—represents the entire community, Harlig said.

He said the commission's task is to do "what's best for the largest number of people," which includes the northern and southern parts of the county. He said opponents of the relocation have "consistently ignored the facts represented to them by the FAA."

"It isn't that they haven't been represented, it's that they haven't been given what they wanted," Harlig said.

After the meeting, Schoen said the governing body should be brought on as quickly as is feasible—perhaps in an advisory role to the current Friedman Memorial Airport Authority until the new airport opens, which would allow members to get up to speed quicker on airport issues.

Earlier during the meeting, Schoen said county commissioners could "ascertain support" for the idea of relocation as a qualification for membership on the new governing body—which will likely have five members. He said the goal is to put in place a new governing authority that will "work productively towards the goal" of opening the new airport.

But the holdouts may not give up without putting up a fight. Outside the hall after the meeting, Willich, Conn and other north valley representatives could be heard arguing with Schoen about representation on the board.

Jason Kauffman:

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