For the week of November 11 thru November 17, 1998  

Wood River Valley develops schizophrenic personality

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

As a refugee from the urban chaos of Phoenix, I have my own druthers for a lifestyle in the Wood River Valley. But others have different ideas for the future.

While my tastes run toward slow growth, a slow pace, careful preservation of tradition and culture and tender care of those magic qualities that’ve attracted others, others are dazzled by the prospect of faster growth and the urbanization of the Wood River Valley.

Real estate brokers, construction firms, mortgage companies and resort-related businesses have a vested interest in growth, as do workers looking for job opportunities.

But those who’ve fled growth booms elsewhere in hopes of a simpler and less hurried life know from experience what lies ahead when growth-at-all-costs runs amok, rather than when common sense and growth management are in control.

The Wood River Valley always is evolving. The mines that once were considered large enterprises have vanished. Sheep ranching is in decline. Skiing is no longer the single industry; high-tech companies are showing up as players in the economy.

But some growth will demand limits (housing density, building height, architectural conformity, etc.) to prevent the hunger for business profits from outracing the demand for a pleasant lifestyle.

Talk has surfaced again, for example, about a larger airport that could attract long-haul destination flights from major urban areas and handle larger aircraft to enhance the Wood River Valley’s tourist volume.

Some would bet that’ll happen when Bald Mountain freezes in July.

Some small airports are suited to expansion, and some areas are natural destinations for long-haul airline flights from major urban areas.

Friedman Memorial Airport in its present location and circumstances isn’t.

Rapid residential growth in Hailey and Bellevue and environs makes more and larger jets unwelcome intruders, even with new generations of quieter engines. A larger airport would require Blaine County taxpayers and the federal and state governments to condemn and acquire hundreds of homes to avoid noise nuisance problems at astronomical costs that could never be fully justified or recovered.

A larger airport for larger jets means more fire and rescue equipment, more parking facilities, and more sophisticated and costly landing systems for marginal weather conditions. But even at that, some pilots might not cotton to what they face in mountainous areas to the north if they have to execute "missed approach" operations in uncertain weather.

However, airline traffic into the Wood River Valley could be dramatically increased tomorrow, if SkyWest and Horizon airlines (or other air carriers) simply made the decision to add aircraft and increase schedules.

But then, that, too is an economic decision – just as the Sun Valley Company’s decision not to build more hotel facilities resort is based on the conclusion the costs aren’t justified now.

So, a schizophrenic personality is developing in the Wood River Valley– those who want little or go-slow growth, and those dreaming of the sound of hammers building yet new homes and businesses.

Which in turn would mean higher taxes for homeowners to pay for more fire and police and emergency services, more schools, more roads.

One way to see what’s happening in the Wood River Valley lifestyle can be found on pages 272 and 273 of the local Names and Numbers telephone directory.

Today, there are 21 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health counselors listed.

Pat Murphy is a past publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator. 


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