Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reactivate airport relocation process

Unquestionably, tourism is the most important driving force for Blaine County's economy. The airport, whether it is within Hailey city limits or a few minutes south of Bellevue, plays an undeniable supporting role, along with professional, well-planned local public relations endeavors.

Friedman Memorial Airport is bursting at the seams. It is in violation of several FAA requirements, and has been operating with waivers for decades now. Recently, Congress mandated that runway safety areas be brought into compliance by 2015 (to retain FAA funding and support). The FAA has identified yet more areas of noncompliance. Shifting the runway 1,500-1,800 feet (equivalent to five to six football fields) south, purchasing land and condemning buildings are not a minor undertaking. Moving the tower would also be required. Demolition expenses incurred, added to new construction costs, make this expansion a major and costly project. This would be a temporary fix for something that begs for a long-term solution. "Keeping it here" isn't the answer.

Without impacting the well-being, the lives and health of families of entire communities, without destroying property values of hundreds and hundreds of households, a relocated airport would guarantee reliability to levels never attainable at Friedman, provide endless expansion opportunities (something Friedman can never do), provide safe landings/take-offs for aircraft of any size and provide increased airport revenues, as several studies have already concluded. With a relocated airport, the quality of life would be placed ahead of the inconvenience of a totally acceptable 25-30 minute shuttle ride, as it should. Other travelers in areas similar to the Wood River Valley have no problem with shuttle rides much longer than 30 minutes.

Are we really that short-sighted that we can't make our own people the No. 1 priority? It is time to reactivate an EIS and identify a new site and work seriously toward relocation.

Bonnie Leighton


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