Friday, May 20, 2011

Delays continue for airport draft EIS

FAA says document will not be finished for months

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Federal Aviation Administration County and federal officials are studying options for replacing Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, above. The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that Friedman, in its current configuration, does not meet safety standards for certain types of aircraft.

Those anxiously awaiting the release of a draft environmental impact statement for the region's planned replacement airport will have to wait at least a few months longer.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday, May 18, that its release of the draft EIS would be delayed until late summer or early fall. The draft EIS was previously set to be released on May 27.

FAA spokeswoman Cayla Morgan said the release is being delayed because the studies have not been completed.

"We are continuing to further refine the analysis," she said. "The agency wants the analysis to be as thorough as possible when we release the document for comment."

Postponement of the release follows written comments from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that urge the administration to delve more deeply into an analysis of the impact a new airport could have on the wildlife that inhabit the proposed sites.

"The Service continues to recommend that additional wildlife surveys and habitat assessments be conducted," reads an April 18 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The letter repeats similar statements made by both agencies in comments submitted in December.

Two sites have been identified as possible locations for a new airport in southern Blaine County. The leading candidate site is east of state Highway 75 just north of the Lincoln County line. A second site under consideration is along the Blaine-Camas county line.

Work on the draft EIS began in 2006 and was expected to be completed within two years.

Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird, who said in an interview last week that he was anxiously awaiting the EIS, could not be reached for comment.

County Commissioner and Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Chair Tom Bowman said he didn't have a comment on the delay, but said, "This is a U.S. government study. It's not our study, and I'm sure they want to do a very thorough job."

County Commissioner Larry Schoen said that although he is "frustrated," the delay may benefit the replacement airport process.

"The fact that it's going to take longer is not a bad thing, per se, because there's lots of other work that needs to be done," Schoen said, pointing to the finalization of the current airport's joint powers agreement as an example. Still, he said, he is "very anxious" to see the report.

The draft EIS is expected to address the impacts a replacement airport on everything from floodplains and the economy to noise, wildlife and historic and tribal resources.

Decisions on final location, funding and potential costs cannot be made until the draft EIS is released for public comment, revised and approved.

Katherine Wutz:

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