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Friday — May 28, 2004

Arts and Entertainment

No easy answers for airport questions,

Airport citizens committee digs in from the get-go

Express Staff Writer

The citizens committee formed to help decide if and where a new airport should be built got off to a flying start Tuesday, with questions that suggested the group will raise issues as well as seek answers.

Even before the hour-and-a-half, late afternoon orientation meeting was completed, at least one member, Sun Valley Councilman Lud Renick, expressed doubts that the Federal Aviation Administration would fund a $100 million to $150 million airport.

To which Friedman Memorial Airport Authority chair Mary Ann Mix disagreed. Mix and other authority board members were attending the organizing meeting as observers.

Mix said the FAA is temporarily tolerating the present airport and its shortcomings only because the FAA knows the feasibility of a new airport is being studied. Mix said the FAA has given her and airport manager Rick Baird every indication a new airport would receive federal funding.

Despite doubts from Mix and authority member Len Harlig they would accept an invitation, the group agreed to a suggestion from advisory committee member Wally Huffman, general manager of the Sun Valley Resort, to invite Twin Falls County representatives to join the study committee. Jerome County was added for good measure.

After noting that nearby Camas County, in the running as an airport site, had representatives on the committee, Huffman suggested that the study might indicate the need for a regional airport that should include Twin Falls.

Mix, however, said Twin Falls’ airport has only 30,000 airline passengers a year, while Friedman has 90,000.

Looking at Huffman across the Old Blaine County Courthouse meeting room, Harlig added that a regional airport closer to Twin Falls probably would be too distant from Huffman’s Sun Valley Resort, many of whose guests come through Friedman Memorial.

Another committee member, Bellevue City Councilman Eric Allen, a proponent of closing Friedman Memorial, added that Twin Falls lies outside the "realm" of realistic considerations for a new airport serving the Wood River Valley.

The hired meeting facilitator, Mike Pepper, of Twin Falls-based KMP Planning, tried to stick to the meeting agenda. He explained duties of the committee, the schedule of 12 meetings and five public workshops over the next 18 months, etiquette of members during discussions, specific technical criteria to be studied for a new airport and available technical help from the airport staff and consultants.

The five periodic workshops, designed to brief the public on progress of the citizens study, probably will be held in the auditorium of the old Wood River High.

Some 30 of the 50 committee’s primary and alternate members attended the meeting. The next meeting is 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 22 in the courthouse.

The members are supposed to represent the area’s tourist, commercial, civic, aviation and government interests, and to provide the airport authority with perspectives peculiar to those sectors.

Ketchum realtor Dick Fenton, representing the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce, asked whether Blaine County could continue to operate Friedman Memorial, possibly for non-airline, general aviation aircraft, even if a new airport is built.

Yes, replied, Mix and airport attorney Barry Luboviski. However, Friedman, in that case, would have to be operated without federal funds and would need local funds to remain open.

But as a private airport, the governing authority would have the right to set its own rules on the type of aircraft allowed to operate there.

Friedman Memorial Airport’s more than 200 acres is built around less than 100 acres donated by the pioneer Friedman family. Whether the land would be returned to the family if the airport were abandoned has yet to be answered.

Sentiment among general aviation pilots and some Wood River Valley companies is running high for retaining Friedman as an airport even if a new one is built.

A question asked by Ketchum planning director Harold Moniz is certain to be explored: Will there be some sort of special transit system to carry passengers from a distant airport?


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