Friday, August 5, 2011

BCAAC put on hold

Members: Airport committee has no work, no role


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A yearlong struggle over the joint powers agreement for Friedman Memorial Airport has been resolved, but approval of the agreement placed the future of the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee in flux.

The agreement, signed by Blaine County and the city of Hailey last month, gives both parties oversight over the current airport. It also grants oversight for the replacement airport solely to the county after the last parcel of land is sold from the existing site. The property is to be sold once a new airport is operational.

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, made up of representatives from both jurisdictions, currently operates and manages the airport.

The advisory committee was placed on hold earlier this week, when the Blaine County Board of County Commissioners moved to allow the group to discontinue meeting until its role could be more clearly defined.

"Right now, there's nothing for you to do that would be productive or meaningful," Commissioner Larry Schoen said during a commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The advisory committee was formed in 2009 to provide broader representation for county residents on airport issues. When the committee began, the only elected county officials on the Airport Authority were Commissioners Tom Bowman and Schoen, representing the mid and south valley. Under the new agreement, north-county Commissioner Angenie McCleary also has a seat on the authority.

"The idea of having all three county commissioners on the [authority] had not been born yet," Bowman said during the meeting.

Now, he said, "the landscape has changed."

That gives the Airport Authority a broader representation of county residents than does the advisory committee, as committee representatives Adrienne Robideaux, and Len Harlig recently resigned. None of the remaining three members are from the south county.

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The advisory committee has struggled since its creation to define its mission and take on assignments from the county commissioners. At one time, the committee was slated to evolve into a new governing body for the replacement airport, intended to succeed the current Airport Authority.

The amended agreement anticipates that the current Airport Authority will evolve into a replacement airport authority, rather than giving power over replacement airport issues to a separate group. That leaves the committee without a clearly defined future role.

Committee members Carl Harris and Vanessa Fry said Tuesday that they are happy to continue to serve the board, but they're not sure how they can be useful.

"If we can carve out a meaningful role, we're willing to serve," Harris said.

"We're serving at your pleasure," Fry added. "[But] there truly isn't clear work to provide us with."

Harris and Fry said they felt the committee should be put on hold at least until the draft environmental impact statement for the replacement airport is issued. When that will be is anyone's guess, however, as the Federal Aviation Administration issued a release last week announcing another delay of the EIS's completion, previously scheduled for early fall. The FAA did not indicate how long the delay may be, and the FAA is now closed until Congress resolves funding issues.

"We're all waiting for the EIS, and maybe we can respond to that," Harris said. "But right now, there's a big void."

McCleary said Tuesday she was reluctant to give up the committee entirely. She said the committee served as a touch point for community input and could be extremely helpful to the commissioners in the future with outreach.

"For me, it would be very helpful to have an advisory committee," she said.

The committee will suspend regular meetings and the two vacancies will not be filled, Bowman said, but the group still has a future with the county.

"We're not dissolving the committee and we're not removing the three remaining members," he said. "We just don't have any tasks for you to do."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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