Friday, December 21, 2012

Editorials ignore airport’s impacts

Fritz Haemmerle


I will respond to the Idaho Mountain Express editorial board’s commentary, “No alternative isn’t an alternative,” published Dec. 12. The opinion was critical of a letter I sent to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding alternatives at the airport. Any responsible journalist would have called me for my views before the opinion was published. In this case, the editorial writer elected not to call me for my views or the history that led to the letter’s being sent.  

Had the writer contacted me, she would have discovered that I was approached by Hailey’s representatives on the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority about the necessity of issuing a letter in response to the seven site alternatives.  I met with the city’s representatives on the Airport Authority and we settled on an outline for the letter. The letter was sent to all city members of the Airport Authority and the entire City Council for their review. I did not receive any substantive critical comments on the letter. Therefore, the letter was sent. After the letter was sent, the issue of the city’s position about the proposed sites was placed before the City Council on Dec. 3. At that meeting, all the City Council members and I unanimously voted to uphold the letter as written. 

The airport’s engineer was present at that same City Council meeting. He was asked whether he would ever build an airport like Friedman near a city, given various and obvious geographic problems, namely mountains. He advised that he would never build an airport like Friedman at the present site. In light of the demand at the airport and the types of aircraft using Friedman, the city’s view remains that the airport was built in the wrong place and is dangerous; nothing about that will ever change. Therefore, the city’s position is that we would like a safer airport away from our population centers.

Having said that, the city also recognizes, as expressed in my letter, that we understand our area needs an airport, and that this need is important for the economic benefits of our community. The letter then goes on to state that in the short and medium term, the city supports alternatives at the airport that make commercial traffic possible and viable. Accordingly, we supported options six and seven, both options of which can be done at the least cost while not expanding the footprint of the current airport. We also supported a planning process for the alternatives. 

The city did not support options one through four (i.e., shift runway and highway east, shift runway east and highway west, shift runway west, and shift runway south and rotate) because those options were very costly and construction could not be completed by a deadline set by Congress to meet a safety standard. Worse yet, options one through four would have had serious impacts to our citizens, which we cannot endorse. 

Option five (shift runway 1,700 feet south) might have been completed by the deadline set by Congress to complete improvements, but that option would have required construction “outside of the fence.” Currently, the joint powers agreement signed by the city and county does not allow for options outside the fence. Also, option five could result in larger planes coming into the airport.  Finally, moving the airport runway south simply shifts impacts to the city of Bellevue. In reviewing airport options, moving our impacts to another city is not a civilized or tenable position.

As usual, whenever any airport issue is discussed in the Idaho Mountain Express, your editorial mantra focuses on economics. Contrary to the Mountain Express’s opinion, the city believes that the economic health of our community is important, and the airport is part of that equation. However, the Mountain Express utterly fails to mention any concern about the health and safety of south-valley people who deal with airport impacts and the unavoidable dangers of living next to an airport. The city tries its best to balance economic issues with safety issues. I suggest your paper do the same. At least there might be some perception that you care about south-valley people.  

The city of Hailey leaders, now and  in the future, have a duty toward our citizens. That duty is simple—make the city of Hailey the very best place to live. I fail to see how we satisfy this duty by putting down more pavement, moving state highways and displacing citizens from their homes, all in the “hope” of bringing a few more people to the valley. Government should protect neighborhoods and promote safety. In this case, bigger does not mean better.

Fritz X. Haemmerle is the mayor of Hailey.

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