Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bellevue opposes airport expansion

County responds to City Councilís move


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County commissioners responded Tuesday to a letter from the Bellevue City Council unanimously revoking all support for any expansion or extension of facilities at Friedman Memorial Airport.

The letter was drafted in response to a meeting at Bellevue Elementary School last month at which residents spoke out against expansion at the current location while pushing for total relocation.

The council voted unanimously at a regular meeting on Oct. 27 to oppose all attempts to extend the airport beyond its current boundaries.

Blaine County Commissioner and Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Chair Tom Bowman said the letter itself was somewhat contradictory, as it both expresses opposition and requests that Bellevue have a formal voice in the entire expansion or relocation process.

"Those two issues somewhat conflict," he said during a commission meeting Tuesday morning.

The council did not formally request a seat on the Airport Authority, which County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said might be the result of a conversation she had with Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch before the letter was drafted.

McCleary said she told Koch that giving the city a seat on the Airport Authority would require an amendment to the joint powers agreement that governs decision-making at the current airport as well as at any new site. According to the agreement, only the city of Hailey and the county are involved in those decisions, as owners of Friedman Memorial Airport. The agreement was recently amended in a months-long process.

"My experience amending the [agreement] has been difficult," McCleary said, adding that if Bellevue were to be granted a seat on the Airport Authority, all other cities in the county should be given seats as well.

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he believed Bellevue would have enough of a voice through public comment during Airport Authority meetings.

"They've always had the ability to attend and be part of [the process]," he said. "What we have is a situation where they're realizing they need to be more active. I can't imagine Chairman Bowman not allowing their comment and active participation."

The commissioners tabled discussion of the letter until their meeting on Dec. 6, with an eye toward developing the county's position on Bellevue's role in proceedings before the Airport Authority convenes for its regular meeting Dec. 8.

"It would be to our advantage on any type of big question like this that we go into the FMAA meeting knowing what the county's position is," Bowman said.

Bowman said he would draft a letter to the Bellevue City Council acknowledging receipt of the letter and alerting it to future discussions.

While Schoen said he understood Bellevue's concerns, he wondered if the city was putting too much focus on one meeting.

"That was one meeting in a very long process," he said. "It serves us well to remember that fact."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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