Friday, November 12, 2010

Leaders tout progress in airport transition

County, Hailey officials hold joint meeting


Larry Schoen

After declaring Friedman Memorial Airport "no longer meets the needs of the community," Blaine County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen compared construction of a replacement airport to historic valley projects such as "digging of mines, the construction of the railroad, and even the creation of the Sun Valley Resort."

Schoen was the lead-off speaker at a joint meeting in Hailey Monday of the Blaine County Commission and the Hailey City Council to help determine how a replacement airport for Friedman will be governed.

Schoen emphasized how important the next six to 12 months will be to the project.

"In less than a month, new financial data will start coming in. By April, we should have the draft of the (Federal Aviation Administration's environmental impact statement). In roughly six months, we will face the central decisions on 'if' and 'how' the project proceeds."

With that in mind, the elected leaders set about discussing the complexities of the transition. Adding to the complex nature of this particular project is the question of how to transition from the joint oversight of Friedman Memorial Airport by Blaine County and the city of Hailey to the sole oversight of a new airport by only Blaine County. A proper plan for transition is considered crucial in terms of gaining approvals for development, establishing governance responsibilities and acquiring funding.


Currently, the leading site for a new airport is in southern Blaine County, near state Highway 75 south of Timmerman Hill. Plans to replace Friedman have been in the making for years, after the FAA determined that the Hailey airport does not meet safety and size regulations for certain types of commercial aircraft that use it.

Much is at stake in the discussions. The Friedman site in Hailey is highly valuable. Hailey city leaders have expressed a significant interest in guiding the transition in a way that the high-profile site is redeveloped in a manner beneficial to the city.

After a comprehensive presentation by attorneys for Hailey and the county, leaders discussed on Monday a modified responsibility-sharing model. While the model gave a balance of specifics and flexibility, it did not give a vision of who will be responsible for specific responsibilities and liabilities, or when those would shift to a new governing body.

Hailey City Councilman Fritz Haemmerle found it hard to make firm or binding agreements because of that vagueness.

"We are still in the dark because there are so many unknowns, but I think we still need to move forward," he said. "If we do so, many of the generalities facing us now will become clear."

Agreeing in principle to a "modified shared responsibilities" model, the leaders asked their lawyers to draft documents with more specificity in them, and to try and have some drafts ready as soon as December. The thinking among leaders is that a coherent, detailed transition plan should be in place before the crucial decisions of 2011 need to be made.

While no binding agreements came out of Monday night's meeting, the principals involved said important progress was made. Schoen called it a "significant event which brought a lot of clarity about our roles going forward." Haemmerle said he was "happy about the dialogue."

Perhaps reflecting the success of the evening, Haemmerle said, "I was skeptical going into the evening and positive coming out of it."

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