Friday, June 4, 2010

Airport critics urge advisers to 'demand' power, money

Express Staff Writer

An air of defiance seemed to sweep over the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee on Tuesday when two critics of policies surrounding replacement of Friedman Memorial Airport urged the advisers to demand decision-making power and funds to hire their own attorney to draft a plan for transferring management powers to a new airport authority.

The BCAAC's members also embraced the idea of having two additional members named to the five-member airport governing body, and designating some Friedman Memorial Airport Authority members to deal with operations of the existing field, the others to handle only replacement airport matters.

The BCAAC agreed to present a statement next week on what it considers its due to the Blaine County Commission, to which the BCAAC reports.

County Commissioner Tom Bowman, who also is chair of the FMAA and considered creator of the BCAAC concept, declined to comment on the advisers' arguments.

But airport attorney Barry Luboviski immediately threw cold water on most of the BCAAC's ideas.

Adding two new members to the airport board can't be done, he said, without changing the Joint Powers Agreement signed by the city of Hailey and Blaine County to manage the airport. Both have said in the past they wouldn't, nor would they keep Friedman open, which has been the hope of resort interests.

Luboviski also said he can't envision the County Commission funding a separate attorney for the BCAAC.

He said that comparisons drawn by BCAAC Chair Adrienne Robideaux and Vice Chair Vanessa Fry likening BCAAC to the county's planning and zoning board are invalid. Unlike the P&Z, Luboviski said, BCAAC "isn't an entity under Idaho law. What they (BCAAC) are is an informal committee of the County Commission."

Whipping up enthusiasm for BCAAC to assert itself were former Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn and real estate executive Dick Fenton.

Conn is a persistent critic of the replacement airport process, claiming north county interests are ignored. Fenton once championed obtaining an FAA "waiver" to "fix" Friedman's operational deficiencies (the FAA doesn't grant such waivers), but in recent years has emphasized a new airport's costs as well as alleged inability of airlines to make profits at a new field.

Since BCAAC's creation, Conn and Fenton have focused their efforts on the BCACC members, not FMAA, whose meetings they once attended.

Conn was especially edgy, even threatening, in his comments to the advisers on Tuesday.

For example, he said if the county wouldn't fund a separate attorney for the BCAAC, he would ask the city of Ketchum for $20,000 to pay for one, and vowed that Ketchum and Sun Valley "will withdraw their support" if, he added, the advisers aren't given "real work" and accorded "appropriate respect" by the County Commission.

Otherwise, Conn said, the BCAAC would be a "shadow boxing group" that serves as "window dressing" for the county. Conn said they should "demand" a budget and decision making power.

By this time in the meeting, member Fry said the group should demand a "commitment" from the county to explain how it would use recommendations from the group. Member Robideaux joined in and suggested "if we're not actually going to do something," advisers "should suspend everything" until an Environmental Impact Statement for a new airport is completed later this year.

At one point, the advisers discussed "finding someone in the FAA" to discuss ways of protecting the city of Hailey from liabilities if it relinquished airport powers to the county. Bypassing the county and the FMAA to talk with the FAA probably would be blocked.

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