Friday, December 7, 2012

Hailey: No compromise on airport plan

Airport Authority discusses alternatives for future

Express Staff Writer

Passengers check in at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority has agreed to disagree with the city of Hailey in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding airport expansion, as city representatives to the board said their hands were tied regarding compromise.

Hailey City Council member and authority Vice Chair Martha Burke said during a meeting of the authority Tuesday evening that the city would not consider alternatives one through five for the current airport site, all of which would move the runway and significantly expand the airport outside of its current boundaries.

The meeting Tuesday was to discuss the city’s and county’s responses to a technical analysis conducted by aviation consultants T-O Engineers. The study laid out improvements that could be made at the current site to comply with FAA standards for runway safety areas, an area 500 feet wide centered on the runway that cannot contain obstacles or even bumps higher than 3 inches. The FAA requested a response from the authority to determine which alternatives the board would most likely support.

Burke said the city is concerned that the alternatives, especially four and five, could pave the way for larger, noisier planes to fly into the airport.

“The city does not want 737s, 757s or anything of that nature, now or in the future at any time,” she said. “We need to just do what we need to do to survive here, and thrive here.”

Alternatives four and five involve moving the current runway south, closer to the city of Bellevue. Alternative four also shifts the runway to the east slightly. Neither alternative involves moving the highway into the Woodside neighborhood of Hailey, but the reconstruction involved in the runway—which currently has a weight limit of 95,000 pounds, limiting access to large jets—could enable it to handle 737s and 757s.

Blaine County Commissioner and Friedman Memorial Airport Authority member Larry Schoen urged Hailey officials to compromise, saying that perhaps elements of alternative five, which shifts the runway about 1,700 feet to the south, could be considered.

“I think we should acknowledge [the city’s] objections, but point out that there are elements worth considering in the planning process,” he said.

But Burke said she was essentially hamstrung by the Hailey City Council, which had given her and other authority members Susan McBryant and Don Keirn strict guidance regarding what they could and could not support.

“Unfortunately, we agree with you,” she said. “We are not being allowed to compromise. We are being given direct guidance by our mayor and council members.”

Authority Chair Tom Bowman expressed frustration with the city, pointing out that he has not seen members of the Hailey City Council or Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle at any authority meetings within the past year.

“To give that kind of informed direction to their [authority] representatives, they should have attended every meeting,” he said.

Burke and McBryant also said they had been asked to tell the Federal Aviation Administration to restart an environmental impact study on the impacts of building a replacement airport as soon as possible.

The study was suspended in August 2011 following FAA concerns that the community could not afford either the study or a new facility. Hailey has consistently pushed to have that study restarted.

“The city of Hailey adamantly is still stating that they want the EIS restarted immediately,” McBryant said.

However, Bowman vetoed including that request in a letter to the FAA.

“We all agree that a replacement airport is the ultimate solution,” he said. “[But] it’s not on topic. It’s like a puzzle piece that belongs to a different puzzle.”

The letter to the FAA stated that the board would like the EIS restarted when the board felt it was appropriate, though the city added a parentheses stating that it would like that time to come as soon as possible.

At the meeting, general aviation representative Ron Fairfax urged a more permanent solution at the current site, asking board members to remember that a replacement airport could be 30 years in the future.

“It’s a dream for the future, like winning the lottery,” he said. “[Friedman] is going to be the airport for the next 20 to 30 years, maybe indefinitely.”

Fairfax recommended looking at alternative four, adding that it would reduce impacts on Hailey, reduce flights over Bellevue and has the merit of being the only alternative to reach all design standards while also not requiring an airport shutdown during construction. It would also allow for a larger terminal at a later date, he said.

“This is going to be the airport for the next 20, 25 or 30 years,” he said. “You have to realize, where are we going to be then?”

The board’s opinions on the study was submitted to the FAA. A meeting has been scheduled between the regional airport manager of the FAA and staff at corporate headquarters in the near future. The document included the disparate opinions of Fairfax, the city and the county but identified issues on which the board agreed, such as the need to minimize environmental and social impacts.

Kate Wutz:

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