Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Airport critics step up pressure, heat up rhetoric

Blaine County commissioner lobbied in private

Express Staff Writer

Dick Fenton & Angenie McCleary

Influential north Blaine County businessmen have stepped up their pressure, and heated up their rhetoric, in efforts to force the Blaine County Commission to accede to demands for changes in the process involved in closing and relocating Friedman Memorial Airport.

The group—real estate agent Dick Fenton, Sun Valley Resort Development Director Wally Huffman, Mayors Randy Hall of Ketchum and Wayne Willich of Sun Valley, and Sawtooth Board of Realtors executive Bob Crosby—believe the county has betrayed earlier promises.

The intensity of the group's feeling surfaced over the weekend in an e-mail exchange between Fenton and County Commissioner Angenie McCleary that was obtained by the Idaho Mountain Express.

McCleary was told by Fenton that "something has to change with the county quickly or things may become extremely contentious," warning that the county would "lose the support of these constituents" (north valley interests), and "they may become fervent adversaries" that could "weigh-in opposition with their close relationships in the Idaho administration, in Congress and in the federal administration."

Fenton also wrote that "the decision may well be that the process is so far off course that it should be abandoned." He also alleged that unnamed persons have engaged in "secret revisions" of a financial consultant's scope of work, while "a p.r. campaign predicated on revisionist history, misstatements of fact and contortions of the truth" has also been launched.

The process Fenton alluded to is a "workable valley-wide governance model and a viable business plan" for a new airport.

The "governance model" is the makeup of the governing body that would manage a new airport. At last week's meeting of the Blaine County Aviation Advisory Committee, several members were enthusiastic about adding two members to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority sooner than has been indicated by the authority, which isn't possible without changing the airport's Joint Powers Agreement, signed by the city of Hailey and Blaine County. Both have said they would not.

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The "business model" is a financial plan for funding a new field. The airport authority has said it will build an airport it can afford through Federal Aviation Administration funding, sale of the current Friedman land and user fees. The plan has been in development by Friedman's financial consultant, Ricondo and Associates of Chicago. The "governance model" has been promised to be shaped prior to the city of Hailey's forgoing its co-ownership of Friedman with Blaine County before opening of a new airport in about 2014.

Fenton initially declined to answer a set of e-mailed questions about his statements.

"You can't be serious!" he replied by e-mail, contending the questions were of an "are-you-still-beating-your-wife" caliber to be used in "a witch hunt."

However, he later responded to two questions about the e-mails. In response to a question about the purpose of private conversations with McCleary, he said they afforded time for discussions that public meetings would not.

County Commissioner Chair Tom Bowman confirmed that all three commissioners have met privately with Fenton and others, as well as others interested in the replacement airport, and said the meetings are part of the county's outreach to the community.

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