Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hailey: Keep airport options open

City leaders object to expansion, want Site 12 on table

     The Hailey City Council voted Monday to send a letter to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority requesting that options other than expanding the existing airport be considered.

     The decision came after a flurry of statements voicing concern about renewed interest in expanding the Hailey airport to allow larger aircraft into the region now and in the future.

     “We’re in a quasi-hostage situation here,” said Councilman Fritz Haemmerle.

     The discussion Monday came on the heels of a decision in August by the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend environmental review of two sites in southern BlaineCounty proposed for relocation of the airport. The process of possibly moving the airport out of Hailey came to a temporary halt when the FAA cited environmental concerns at one of the sites—Site 10A near the Blaine-Lincoln county line—and said there is inadequate funding to build the estimated $300 million facility.

     On Monday, some Hailey leaders said they want one of the two preferred sites—Site 12 east of Fairfield—to get another serious look.

     “I would like Site 12 to be on the table,” said Councilwoman Carol Brown.

     “I would too,” Haemmerle said. “Why should we expand a bad airport?”

     “The county doesn’t support an airport there,” said Councilwoman Martha Burke, who serves as vice-chair of the Airport Authority.

     Burke will meet with the FAA on Oct. 16 along with Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman. The FAA has said no options have been taken off the table but the community needs to determine what it wants and how it will pay for it. It has been suggested the federal agency might only pay for about half of the project cost.

     Haemmerle said he is worried Hailey and its citizens could now be stuck living with a bigger, noisier airport in its midst.

     “The county commissioners don’t have the political will to look at the hard options and they have the political will to gore us,” he said. “And I think that’s wrong.”

     Both Brown and Burke expressed support for reopening the “value engineering” phase—consideration of how costs could be reduced—of the site assessment for Site 12.

     Burke noted that one option is a southward extension of the current runway parallel to state Highway 75, but the need for an Instrument Landing System requires a bigger footprint than such an extension would provide. A realignment to the southwest could provide that space, but has been opposed by Bellevue residents at recent public meetings.

     “Instrument landing takes a lot of space outside the fence,” Burke said, referring to the fact that the signal needs open space. “That should be the first conversation with the FAA. Can we afford it? Will it do any good?”

     In a rare twist given the public outcry at other meetings in the valley, only one Hailey resident commented during the open discussion.

     “There is so much misleading information going around,” said Krista Gehrke of Hailey. “The public needs to see the three options so we can decide.”

      These options are an extension and widening of the current configuration, the angled extended runway to the southwest closer to Bellevue, and doing nothing.

     “The status quo should be analyzed,” Haemmerle said, and the other council members agreed.

     There was consensus on the council that Hailey residents should be more vocal at the meetings.

     “We need to schedule a meeting for one purpose,” Haemmerle said. “I know we can get a lot of people to comment but we need people to show up.

     “We need to hear what people in Hailey have to say,” Keirn agreed.

     However, the council set no date for such a meeting.

     The council members concluded that a formal position statement on what their views on the airport were should be drawn up and presented to the FAA and the Airport Authority. Burke said she would present the letter.

     City Attorney Ned Williamson advised caution.

     “There is a rush here to write a letter,” he said.

     He said he didn’t think it was prudent to indicate to the FAA one option over another.

     However, Keirn said, “I think we should go forward.”

     Other council members agreed.

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