Friday, September 30, 2011

In south, airport plans raise hackles

Hailey City Council surprised by FAA about-face

Express Staff Writer

Hailey City Council members are reeling from an unexpected change in perspective by Federal Aviation Administration officials who seem less insistent on the necessity of relocating Friedman Memorial Airport.

Hailey officials have spent years in preparation for relocating the airport, but are no longer sure if the money or political will exists to do that.

"We have been forced to consider the [existing] Freidman site," said Council Chair Fritz Haemmerle during a meeting Monday. "The FAA has softened its stance. It got shifted 180 degrees on us pretty much out of the blue in the last two weeks."

Councilman Don Keirn said the message he got most clearly from a presentation by an FAA representative on Sept. 13 was that sage grouse habitat at the primary new airport site south of Bellevue posed an insurmountable problem.

"They told us we can't spend our way out of the sage grouse problem," Keirn said. "The new airport would cause them to be endangered and that would have repercussions in 13 states. That's a pretty big ripple. It's a wave."

Two aerial graphic options illustrating possible expansions to the airport in its current location drew ire from Hailey and Bellevue residents who attended the meeting.

One of the renderings depicted a runway extending almost to Bellevue.

"It would be right in our backyard," said Bellevue Chantrelle subdivision resident Warren Cordingley. "The air traffic is almost unbearable as it is. This impact would be ginormous."

Bellevue City Councilman and Broadford Road resident Larry Plott told the council that the airport has already been expanded twice in 20 years and that an additional expansion would cause impacts to wildlife and residents alike.

"How many times does it need to be extended to satisfy the big-money people?" he asked.

Hailey City Council members were in general agreement that the FAA wanted "all options on the table," including the raising of sufficient tax funds to relocate the airport to a suitable location.

Haemmerle said Hailey taxpayers should ask themselves if Blaine County needs an airport at all. He said they would have to consider raising as much as $100 million through a bond and tax increase to pay for relocation.

Other options include condemning about 80 homes in Woodside to enlarge the airport, an option that was considered and shelved many years ago, said Friedman Memorial Airport liaison and former Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant.

Tony Evans:

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