Citing a lack of public understanding and a need for more input, the Blaine County commissioners delayed signing an amended Friedman Memorial Airport joint powers agreement on Tuesday.
Commissioners Tom Bowman and Angenie McCleary said they were ready to sign, but deferred to a request by Commissioner Larry Schoen to hold off.
"The public deserves a better understanding of the issues," Schoen said. "It's important that the community understand that the county will not be the sole sponsor of the new airport when it opens or at any time in the foreseeable future."
The existing airport is governed jointly by the city of Hailey and Blaine County. Representatives from Hailey signed the new agreement on June 27.
While the county has said it would bear sole responsibility for the replacement airport, a provision in the proposed agreement allows Hailey to maintain its role in replacement airport operations until the last parcel of land at the existing airport is sold.
"It's anybody's guess how long that might be," Schoen said. "It might be two days after the new airport opens, or it could be two decades."
McCleary said she agreed with Schoen's concerns, but that the agreement could be amended as needed in the future.
"There are so many unknowns, but we need to look at what is clear at this point and move forward," she said. "This is not a perfect agreement, but it accomplishes my ultimate goal."
She said that goal was the inclusion of all three county commissioners on the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority governing board, which is not authorized under the current agreement. The new agreement also gives Hailey three seats on the eight-member authority. The other two seats will be held by the airport manager and a representative from private aircraft owners.
Members of the public present at the meeting said they worried about Hailey's influence over the sale of the land at the existing airport site.
The county will be responsible for the financial burden of funding the replacement airport, meaning it would be invested in getting the highest price for the land at the existing airport site. The city might be willing to accept a lower price in return for a promise of more jobs or other economic benefits down the line, said Ketchum airport liaison Charles Conn, placing the authority in debt which could impact the entire county.
"The ambiguity that's left around disposal of the land creates a real tension," he said. Bowman said the idea that Hailey could dictate the buyer of the property is a "misconception." Idaho code requires the county and city to sell all government-owned property at a public auction to the highest bidder.
"[Hailey] can't look for the lowest price so they can get jobs," Bowman said. "It's very clear how the land should be disposed."
McCleary and Bowman said they were ready to sign the agreement but would be willing delay signing until after another public hearing if it meant gaining Schoen's signature as well.
Schoen said he was "on the verge" of approving the agreement once convinced the public understood the issues at hand.
A public hearing will be scheduled for the week of July 18, but Bowman said he wasn't sure it would change anything.
"This has had numerous public hearings both before this board and the city of Hailey," he said. "I don't know that delaying this will inform our process any more."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Authority met Tuesday
The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority met at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss rates and charges along with replacement airport issues. For coverage, see the news updates on our website, www.mtexpress.com.