Friday, June 25, 2010

Airport officials: Criticisms donít fly

Latest critique of replacing Friedman met with harsh words

Express Staff Writer

North valley critics of planning for a replacement for Friedman Memorial Airport were met with rebukes Tuesday by the Blaine County Commission chair, who also mildly chastised the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee to stick with its mission.

Harsh words also came from one of the advisory group's members, Len Harlig, a former airport authority member and former county commissioner, who said the advisory committee is regarded in the community as a "political action committee for a very narrow group of individuals with very limited ideas."

The crescendo of criticisms began Monday during a one-item advisory committee agenda discussion aimed at drafting a procedure for submitting recommendations to the County Commission, and ways the commission would respond to the advisory committee.

The discussion was sidetracked by Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich when he revived a signature criticism.

Willich again suggested that taxpayers in Sun Valley and elsewhere in the county could be responsible for potential liability costs at a new airport. Willich also asked why Blaine County would be a replacement airport's sponsor.

Airport Manager Rick Baird, who attended the meeting, again rejected real estate broker Dick Fenton's claim that "secret revisions" have been made to a financial consultant's work. He said the scope of work of Ricondo and Associates had been discussed at airport authority meetings since January.


As for Willich's question about sponsorship, Baird said the Federal Aviation Administration polled all counties and cities in the region asking whether they want to be the sponsor. None applied. He said Willich's suggestion of costs to taxpayers had been rejected as hypothetical, since the airport authority and the county have declared it will not build or operate an airport that is not self-sustaining through FAA grants and user fees.

Monday's meeting climaxed when Willich suggested to advisory committee member Carl Harris that "we (Sun Valley) sent you here as our representative," implying that Harris' obligation was to Sun Valley.

At one point, a clearly vexed Harlig lit into Willich, saying, "You're barking up the wrong tree and howling at the wrong moon."

On Tuesday, when advisory committee chair Adrienne Robideaux went before the County Commission to report, commission Chair Larry Schoen aimed several barbs at unnamed airport critics, saying in an apparent reference to Fenton's "secret revision" allegation that he was "dismayed to see comments about the idea [that] anyone is falsifying information or misleading the public," which he called "destructive" to building the replacement airfield.

He also repeated a vow not to build an airport that the county couldn't afford.

After Harlig told commissioners that advisors in public meetings and in private conversations had "gotten a very limited point of view" from north county businessmen and also alluded to the image of a "political action committee," Schoen seemed to bristle, telling advisory committee members that "you're not a political body, that should be clear." County commissioners, he said, are elected to "represent interests of the whole county."

He added, "You're not the FMAA (Friedman Memorial Airport Authority)," and said the advisory committee's role now is to focus on design, function and planning of a replacement facility.

He said addressing how and when a governing body for a new airport would be created is "not your role" at the moment. Later, Schoen said "governance transitioning is not the primary issue today for the replacement airport. Sponsorship transition is the main issue."

Asked later by the Mountain Express to respond, Fenton said, "I did not hear them say the subsistence of planning for the replacement airport, the business plan or the transition on governance were not to be considered by the [advisory committee], as it would seem the commissioners would want advice on those substantive matters."

Fenton added, "As for (Harlig's) comments, the commissioners are the ones to decide if questions raised by representatives of Sun Valley, city of Ketchum, Sun Valley Co. and the Sawtooth Board of Realtors regarding the need for a governance transition plan and a viable business plan are 'political' questions or substantive questions that go to the core of making the replacement airport successful."

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