A virtual standing-room-only audience showed up Tuesday for the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee to witness a principal critic of relocating Friedman Memorial Airport being rebuked by the airport's attorney and manager, plus hearing one member of the advisory group wonder whether it serves any purpose.
It was the liveliest, best-attended meeting thus far of the advisory committee, which has no legal power and no budget, and has yet to complete its own bylaws.
Nearly 20 people crowded the small County Courthouse Annex conference room, including Hailey and Sun Valley city council members as well as Friedman officials. The meeting followed the online publication of a Mountain Express story quoting former Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn urging the committee to "demand" county funds to hire its own attorney to question procedures related to the airport relocation, and comments from committee members about adding two members to Friedman's governing board. Saying he was speaking as Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall's "liaison," Conn said last week that he would even ask Ketchum to donate $20,000 for an attorney if Blaine County refuses.
Rapt attention fell over the Tuesday meeting when member Len Harlig lamented that "we've been at this for six months" and "don't seem to have moved the dial by a hair. We've barely been able to draft bylaws and elect officers. This is not a credible body." Harlig added, "I'm not going to keep pushing water up the hill with a spoon." He said he wondered if there's another alternative.
The committee was created to mentor possible new appointees to govern a new airport and to help the county in fact-finding and studies, as well as being an outreach to the community.
Committee Chair Adrienne Robideaux complained that it lacked tasks. Member Carl Harris argued that the group needs funds.
Harlig, however, disagreed.
"We've been assigned tasks," he said.
The committee's original agenda was to develop recommendations on the form of a new airport authority for a replacement field, contribute to development of a financial plan for building and operating a new airport and conduct a survey about general aviation attitudes. Member Vanessa Fry wants to add environmental programs to the list.
The impression created by the exchange is that the committee is still in search of an identity.
Later, Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, a stickler about his city's finances, seized on the current Gulf oil spill to construct a hypothetical scenario—who would be financially responsible for an oil spill at a new airport and would liability be distributed among valley cities and the county. (The airport is insured as are on-field users and tenants.)
Willich, a former Boeing executive, warned that "there are plenty of opportunities for a new airport to go sideways ... if we don't learn how to play together." As he raced through his comments, he said, "We're going to get screwed" for funding if the Federal Aviation Administration believes "you people in Iowa don't know what you're doing—I mean, Idaho."
Next up was Conn, who took copious notes in a journal and spoke with lawyerly finesse. He said the advisory committee would be a "still-born process" if Blaine County is unwilling to provide resources to the group.
The most riveting moments came when real estate agent Dick Fenton, longtime critic of closing Friedman, hammered on his signature arguments in the meeting's longest and most complex dissertation, involving doubts that Friedman financial consultants Ricondo and Associates of Chicago would deliver honest estimates of the building and operating costs of a new airport. He also condemned the lack of an immediate plan for transitioning to a new airport management authority.
In an e-mail to County Commissioner Angenie McCleary last week, Fenton accused the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority of "secret revisions" to the consultant's scope of work, "misstatements of fact and contortions of the truth." He also said that unless the county accommodates requests from him and other north-valley interests, it and the cities could find themselves "fervent adversaries" with the Idaho state government and federal officials. Fenton refused Mountain Express requests for examples to back up his claims.
Fenton was promptly challenged by Airport Manager Rick Baird, who said the financial plan has been in development and discussed publicly for months and will be subjected to scrutiny in at least six future public meetings. Baird later pointed out to a reporter that not only have there been no "secret revisions," but the project has been discussed at airport authority meetings since January, which, he said, Fenton hasn't attended.
When Fenton, sitting with five stacks of documents in front of him, insisted that the city of Hailey, a co-owner of the airport, is resisting development of a new governance body, he was just as promptly rebuked by airport authority Co-Chair Martha Burke, who's also a Hailey city councilwoman, and Friedman attorney Barry Luboviski.
The present airport authority cannot be expanded now, as some critics demand, without changing the joint powers agreement between Hailey and the county. A proposed new authority makeup is awaiting recommendations from several sources, including the airport advisory committee. It has also been discussed for months at airport authority meetings.
Baird also suggested the advisory committee could find useful assistance in its tasks without duplicating costs through nationally known airport and aviation consultants Mead and Hunt and highly regarded aviation and airport consulting attorney Peter Kirsch of Denver, who has outlined a number of alternative governance structures in public appearances here.
However, after advisory committee Chair Robideaux later appeared briefly before the County Commission, Sun Valley Resort Development Director Wally Huffman, a persistent critic of relocating Friedman to a distant site, told commissioners that he was "a little troubled" by using airport consultants as resources, rather than encouraging the advisory committee to "look at things with another point of view."