Friday, March 4, 2011

Surprised? The $100M shocker

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority says "no surprises" in construction cost estimates for a new airport. For Ketchum, this is not only a surprise, but a nasty one. For years, the Airport Authority has said that the new airport's total cost would approximate $130 million, and that it could be funded by $50 million from the FAA, $50 million from the sale of Friedman property and $30 million from private investments, with no cost to taxpayers. Now, with construction cost estimates alone of $189 million, the total bill could reach $240 million to $250 million, after adding in costs for design, environmental remediation, transportation and other soft costs.

In other words, the "new" data are more than $100 million higher than our community's assumptions, most of which would have to be carried by Blaine County residents. Where are we going to get the additional $100 million?

Adding to this challenge are two data points impacting funding. Airport Authority consultants now say the land at Friedman is worth much less than $50 million.

Second, the federal outlook has changed. This year's Obama budget cuts $1 billion from FAA airport improvement expenditures nationwide, and it would be prudent for us to anticipate continuing austerity in future budgets. Under these circumstances, what sort of an FAA contribution can we expect toward our new airport?

In Ketchum, we are very focused on economic development. We have $2 billion of approved new development projects awaiting execution. We are working to redefine economic development goals and strategies via a community-wide effort. We are working with the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance to grow our visitor-based economy. All these efforts rely, directly or indirectly, on improving air service to the valley.

The information released last week makes the realization of a new airport distinctly uncertain. Our future depends upon reliable expanded air service. How are we going to get it?

Larry Helzel

Ketchum city councilman

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