Friday, November 30, 2012

County keeps airport options open

Commissioners suggest avoiding extensive expansion


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Federal Aviation Administration County leaders are assessing plans to modify Friedman Memorial Airport, above, to make the facility fully compliant with FAA safety standards.

Blaine County commissioners decided Tuesday to remain flexible in considering which of seven options for airport modification would be best.

The commissioners agreed during a public meeting that they would prefer any of three possible alternatives that do not involve moving the airport terminal, moving state Highway 75 significantly or condemning homes in the Woodside neighborhood of Hailey.

The current airport must be modified to comply with Federal Aviation Administration standards by Dec. 31, 2015.

That deadline was set by a 2009 congressional mandate, which states that the airport’s runway safety area—which must be at least 500 feet wide centered on the runway and free of steep grades and bumps higher than 3 inches—must comply with FAA standards by that date. 

Friedman Memorial Airport is aiming for C-III compliance, which would allow smaller regional jets and all aircraft that currently operate at the airport to fly in and out.

Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Chair Tom Bowman said during the meeting that the airport’s goal is to “survive and thrive” at the current site while looking toward and planning for a replacement airport.

T-O Engineers spokesman Dave Mitchell presented the last version of a draft report to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority last month that laid out seven options for obtaining compliance at the current site.

The first four involve significant amounts of construction and remodeling: moving Highway 75 east and condemning homes in Woodside, moving Highway 75 west of the airport, rebuilding the runway and all airport facilities slightly to the west of their current locations or moving the entire runway to the south and angling it to the west.

All those options would bring the airport into full compliance with all C-III design standards. Three other options call for less drastic construction, but do not bring the airport into compliance with all FAA standards, just the runway safety area mandate.

Commissioners Larry Schoen and Angenie McCleary said they prefer to avoid the first four options for airport modification. However, they said they could not rule them out completely and that they remain open to FAA guidance on whether to move the runway to the south or instead relocate a taxiway and a number of hangars and other facilities. 

Two of those three options would involve relocating Highway 75 slightly to the east, between its current location and the Wood River Trails path in that area.

“Over the long course of the process to replace Friedman with an airport in another location, drawing hard lines in the sand has accomplished virtually nothing,” Schoen said. “We need to rebuild Friedman in a way that meets the needs of our community in the near term.”

Schoen said that even though the city of Hailey had “ruled out” an option that would have moved the runway to the south by 1,700 feet, he felt the idea should be explored further.

“I want us to gather more evidence about what the real impacts of relocating the runway might be,” he said. “I don’t think we are in a position to say precisely what the tradeoffs would be.”

Bellevue Councilman David Hattula said during public comment that any options that would expand the airport outside of its current fenced boundaries would be detrimental to Bellevue—especially a shift to the south.

“Our non-developed portion of our city is at the north end,” he said. “Any change or expansion to the south is clearly going to impact the value of possible development, and the [desire] of anyone to actually develop there.”

Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said he would prefer to eliminate any option that would move the runway to the south. However, he added that leaving that alternative on the table might allow the FAA to come up with a “hybrid solution” that would combine a small shift south with elements of the other alternatives.

“They may come up with something that is different from what we have,” he said. “We need to give the staff a little bit of flexibility to dance with the FAA.”

McCleary said that once an option and alternatives are decided on, the Airport Authority can begin revising the airport master plan—which could include restarting the environmental impact statement for a replacement airport.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

 




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