Friday, February 4, 2011

Airport consultant wants ‘green’ facility

Workshop attendees generally favor ‘carbon-neutral’ plan

Express Staff Writer

Valley residents and interested parties prepare to give comments on plans to develop a new regional airport that is “carbon-neutral.” Photo by David N. Seelig

The aviation industry and sustainable use of resources are not typical bedfellows, but they were paired at a meeting in Sun Valley on Wednesday night.

Nearly 50 local residents attended a workshop focusing on how to make a proposed replacement airport in Blaine County as sustainable—environmentally, economically and socially—as possible. It was the second in a series of workshops intended to give the public full access to the planning process of this massive project.

The workshop was facilitated by consultants from Mead & Hunt, an architectural and building company based in Minneapolis, with help from local city, county and airport officials. Questions from the crowd focused on specific technologies that airport planners would use to create a carbon-neutral facility, whether those technologies would be too expensive compared to conventional ones and how to best take advantage of regionally unique energy-saving possibilities. A true carbon-neutral facility would not add amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

After fielding a few questions, Matt Dubbe of Mead & Hunt observed that it was "clear that sustainable and energy-efficient building practices are important values in this community," and should be reflected in a new airport.

Audience members suggested a plethora of possible sustainable energy practices—solar, wind, geothermal and biomass were named—and suggested the terminal be designed to achieve LEED certification. A Mountain Rides Transportation Authority representative even dreamed aloud of an express lane for ground transportation on state Highway 75.

Though nothing was settled, the workshop was a clear indication that local residents want an airport that is as close to carbon-neutral as possible. Consultants and local officials were united in agreement and seemed convinced that sustainable design and building practices were cost-effective.

A recurring theme in recent public meetings about a replacement airport is the desire from the public for more specific information about the project. What air carriers will serve the airport? What will the total cost be? What will happen to the land at the existing airport?

The answers to those questions are as yet unknown.

However, information needed to answer them is being collected by teams of consultants and the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA, which would commit most of the money for a new airport, is in the latter stages of an environmental impact study of the entire project. Another group is analyzing possibilities for the land at the existing airport. Still another group is reanalyzing data that was collected when the economy was much healthier than it is now so the project will be based upon realistic data, not inflated expectations.

The results of all those studies will be made public in draft form during the next six months or so.

Important upcoming airport dates

- Late February: Release of study estimating cost of new airport.

- March: Friedman redevelopment plan and feasibility analysis made public.

- April: Draft funding plan for new airport and pro-forma financial projections presented to Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

- Late May: Draft of FAA's EIS released; new airport site recommended; 90-day public review.

- June: Friedman Memorial Airport Authority gets qualified opinion from consultants about financial feasibility of replacement airport.

- Late 2012: Expected date of record of decision by FAA.

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