Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Commissioners leery about airport contract language

County leaders want ‘objective analysis’ on options

Express Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting a study of runway safety at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, above. Photo courtesy of Friedman Memorial Airport.

Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday said they had concerns that a 90-day study of improvements that could be made at Friedman Memorial Airport might prematurely eliminate helpful alternatives.

Commissioner Larry Schoen said during a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners that a draft scope of work outlining what sort of alternatives aviation consultants T-O Engineers would be studying already shows a bias against certain options.

"The type of language I am talking about is peppered throughout the document," Schoen said. "It makes statements like, 'Choosing this alternative will be very difficult and expensive to accomplish.' Language like that just makes me uncomfortable."

The draft scope of work was composed by Dave Mitchell with T-O Engineers. Different from the airport planning study proposed last month, Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird said that this study would be a 90-day look at what can be done to solve design deficiencies at the current airport and how much it would cost for each alternative.

Baird said that the airport planning study would have taken from six months to a year, but the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to allow the airport authority to conduct a briefer study.

However, Schoen said that the study needs to be clearly objective and present a realistic picture of costs and benefits to various improvements.

"What I would like the study to accomplish is simply an objective presentation of the alternatives and an analysis of the benefits and associated costs," he said.

Commissioners Tom Bowman and Angenie McCleary added that they felt any decisions regarding whether certain alternatives would be too difficult or expensive should be left with the board—not with Mitchell.

"It's not that [Mitchell] did bad work, it's just that he doesn't need to make those conclusions," Bowman said. "We need to take the heat on that."

Baird said the FAA's decision to allow the airport authority to commission a 90-day study rather than a lengthier one followed a request from airport staff in April. The FAA approved the use of a 90-day study last month.

"Why they took from April to June to find out that's what they wanted to do, I'm not sure," Baird said. "But it makes sense to your staff and your consultants to do this."

The study will focus on the airport's runway safety area, runway object-free area, runway and airport parking separation and runway and taxiway separation—all areas that would need to be addressed in order for the airport to meet the C-II design standards the authority said it was aiming for last month. Meeting those standards would allow the airport to accommodate some commercial regional jets.

Baird said Tuesday that the study would not address reliability, an omission at the request of the FAA.

Kate Wutz:

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