Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No alternative isnít an alternative

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority reviewed a letter from Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle last week about alternatives for upgrading the airport to accommodate regional jets.

He wrote that the city doesn’t support five of seven alternatives outlined by engineers that would bring the airport into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards for such airports. The two other alternatives would leave the airport seriously out of compliance and begging for mercy with no guarantee that the federal agency would waive requirements.

Hailey, he stated, is interested in solutions that can be applied inside the existing fence that surrounds the airport.

He called for a “dual path” in which the airport treads water with existing commercial airline service while a new airport is built somewhere else. He failed to acknowledge that the FAA suspended such considerations more than a year ago in the face of budget uncertainty, escalating costs for a new airport and the discovery that a leading new site is populated by sage grouse teetering on the brink of being officially listed as an endangered species and triggering development restrictions.

Hailey owns most of the airport and controls it jointly with Blaine County.

The course that the mayor outlined would endanger an already weak local economy. The alternatives outside of doing relatively nothing produce plenty of heartburn. They include condemnation of some private homes, realigning or moving state Highway 75 and putting it closer to nearby homes, extending the runway closer to Bellevue, angling the runway to the west and expanding its noise footprint.

While grimacing about the painful alternatives was expected, Hailey’s absolute refusal to consider them was not.

Simply saying “no” to doable alternatives is not an alternative at all unless the city is willing to throw the valley’s economy and all of its residents under a bus.

If the airport isn’t brought up to standards that allow regional jets to operate well, commercial air service would eventually disappear as airlines replace old planes with regional jets. Visitors would be forced to travel long distances by car or bus from airports in Salt Lake City, Twin Falls or Boise. Thus, visitor numbers would shrink, and the area’s population  would as well until Sun Valley-area cities look like Mackay or Challis or any number of Western wide spots in the road.

The city’s position looks like an invitation to hard-working businesses and families to shutter up and leave the area. It looks like it was composed by leaders with their hands pasted firmly over their eyes and their thumbs plunged deeply into their ears.


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