Friday, June 10, 2011

Leaders ask FAA to pay more for new airport

Board wants to reduce county’s share of costs

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority say Blaine County shouldn't have to pay half the cost of a replacement airport, and they want to make sure the Federal Aviation Administration knows that.

Half the cost has been the typical share that local communities have shouldered for other replacement airport projects around the country.

During a meeting of the Airport Authority on Tuesday night, airport Manager Rick Baird went over the details of a report in progress that will explain the makeup of Blaine County. The document is for officials from the FAA's regional office in Renton, Wash., who have committed to take it to top FAA officials in Washington, D.C., during an upcoming trip.

According to Baird, the document will detail aspects such as Blaine County's large percentage of nontaxable public land, small population of just 22,000 people, high unemployment and steep drop in property values. They want the FAA to be as educated as possible about the county.

"This is Blaine County. This is who we are," Baird said.

He said the county is unlike other communities around the country such as St. George, Utah, Panama City, Fla., and Denver, Colo., that have built replacement airports. Each of those communities has a much larger population, Baird said.

Between $45 million and $46 million is about all of the replacement airport cost that the county can meet, he said.

Paying half the estimated price tag for the replacement airport, which has soared to $325 million at last count, just isn't reasonable, members of the Airport Authority board have said.

"We're questioning whether we can come up that amount of money," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview. Schoen represents the county on the Airport Authority board, along with Commissioner Tom Bowman.

Schoen said the Airport Authority has considered a number of different local funding sources. Schoen has publicly stated his opposition to using a property tax measure to help the county fulfill its share of the airport costs. Approval of such a measure would require a two-thirds majority of county voters.

According to the Fly Sun Valley replacement airport website (, the massive construction project would create 3,450 direct jobs and 1,900 secondary jobs, produce a $158 million payroll and create nearly $510 million in total economic impact. Once in operation, the airport would produce an estimated $30 million in annual economic impact and 500 permanent jobs due to increased visitor days, direct flights from major markets and increased economic activity.

The Airport Authority and some county leaders are advancing a process of building a new airport in southern Blaine County, in large part because the FAA has determined that Friedman does not meet federal safety standards for certain types of aircraft. The board is scheduled to discuss a revised draft funding plan for the replacement airport at its August meeting.

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