How far is too far?
New airport’s distance from valley is
By PAT MURPHY
Express Staff Writer
Persistent as they are about technical
issues in finding a possible site for a new airport, Friedman Memorial Airport’s
consultants cannot escape the nagging question that seems to dominate meetings
of a citizens site selection advisory group.
How far would a new airport be from the
center of the Wood River Valley’s economic heartland, and how far is too far?
The question surfaced repeatedly Tuesday
evening at the regular meeting of the 50-member citizens site selection advisory
group that will spend 18 months studying whether a new airport costing upwards
of $100 million should be built and where.
Total costs of the site study by
consultants is estimated to be $992,466, with $942,842 provided in a grant from
the Federal Aviation Administration.
The site of a new airport has become a
special concern for Wally Huffman, general manager of the Sun Valley Resort, who
questioned whether the designated study area of possible sites—a large section
with Bellevue on the north, Carey on the east, Shoshone on the south and
Fairfield on the west—is too limiting.
Huffman said he wanted to "make sure we’re
considering the area north of Bellevue."
"The resort (Sun Valley Resort) is the
engine that drives" the Wood River Valley economy, Huffman said. The new airport
site "must be measured from where the commercial demand is, and that’s the north
He said that an airport built an hour and
15 minutes by ground travel from the resort is too far.
"That’s my gut feeling," Huffman said.
Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, also a member
of Friedman Airport’s governing authority but attending the advisory meeting as
an observer, expressed her concern, too, about distance of a site.
She called the present airport’s location
virtually adjoining the Hailey business district a "luxury," and warned of the
dangers of a site too distant.
"Businesses will start looking to
relocate," she said, adding that airline passengers could just as easily drive
to Boise for their flights as drive too far to a new Wood River Airport.
She said "leakage" of passengers from a
local airport would become a major loss to Friedman’s economic stability.
Horizon Airlines’ director of airport
affairs, Ken Stevens, of Seattle, also made a point about distance. Horizon
employees, he said, probably wouldn’t drive 45 minutes from their homes in the
Wood River Valley to a new field.
Two of the airport’s consultants, Charles
Sundby, of Toothman-Orton, and Tom Schnetzer, of Mead and Hunt, pointed out that
siting would take into account ground travel time and the impact on passenger
The distance from the present Friedman
airport most often mentioned is 20 to 25 miles.
In Tuesday’s meeting, the consultants
offered 16 examples of potential sites within the diamond-shaped area where a
new airport most likely would be built.
But the advisory committee is expected to
produce only three preferred sites, after paring down the original list with
tests involving their compatibility with the environment, obstacle-free
location, and economic and social desirability for passengers as well as airport
Schnetzer told the group that even the
present Friedman airport would be included in evaluations with other sites,
although to meet FAA standards the current Friedman would require major physical
alterations—relocating taxiways, acquiring new land to extend the runway and
rerouting Highway 75 away from the airport boundary—and at a cost of tens of
millions of dollars. But nothing could be done about nearby mountains that limit
the field’s operations.
The FAA has said Friedman does not comply
with the changing demands of larger airliners, but will be allowed to operate
since it has shown the intent to consider construction of a new field.
Consultants asked the advisory committee
for suggestions on what should be considered for a new site.
The general manager of Friedman’s only
fixed base operator that provides service and ramp space, Mike Rasch, of Sun
Valley Aviation, commented that a new site should "have some close proximity" to
the Wood River Valley because of the heavy volume of general aviation pilots who
fly here for vacation and business.
But that concept might create its own
accommodation needs, he noted.
"I have a strong feeling there should be
some mechanism in place to protect an airfield against development that would be
incompatible—like residential next to the runway," Rasch said.
Horizon’s Stevens said his airline would
want a nearby fuel tank farm for its aircraft, plus a runway allowing landings
and takeoffs in both directions, and a field distant from housing to avoid
lawsuits about noise.
When the question was raised by realtor
Dick Fenton about the size of aircraft a new airport should be designed to
handle, Stevens cautioned that the larger the aircraft operated by airlines, the
less frequency of service.