Eccles Flying Heart Ranch

Eccles Flying Heart Ranch, pictured here looking south, sits between the runway at Friedman Memorial Airport and the border with Bellevue.

A plan to acquire about 385 acres from Eccles Flying Hat Ranch received strong support from Airport Authority board members Tuesday night.

The airport’s current idea is for the Eccles property south of the runway—if purchased—to remain as open agricultural space. By acquiring the land, airport Manager Chris Pomeroy said, Friedman could better protect the airport’s approach and departure surfaces and prohibit undesirable or unsafe residential developments just south of the runway.

Board member Fritz Haemmerle agreed.

“Airport landings have had a big impact on Chantrelle subdivision in Bellevue, for example, and we certainly don’t want that to repeat,” Haemmerle said.

Both Pomeroy and board member Pat Cooley emphasized that no ulterior motives were at play with the land acquisition plan.

“This acquisition is not intended to have anything to do with airport expansion,” Pomeroy said. “And, I want to remind people that no city or county tax funds will be expended for this project. It’s all coming out of the airport budget, and the project will be in coordination with FAA and FMAA board only.”

Cooley echoed Pomeroy’s comment.

“The city of Hailey has always been against expanding the airport south, where it would impact its neighbors. This is no way, shape or form a back-door move,” he said. “This [acquisition] will protect open space between cities as long as the airport’s there.”

Haemmerle said the public can be “comforted” that the Eccles property would stay as undeveloped green space.

“I was very skeptical when I first heard about the potential purchase, but after meeting with the FAA last fall I was assured that there was no intent to expand the airport or runway,” he said.

The land acquisition would be financed via future FAA Airport Improvement Program funding, Pomeroy said, with the FAA covering about 94 percent of the purchase and Friedman pitching in the remaining 6 percent.

“There are still many steps in the process before a potential grant for the land itself becomes a reality,” he said.

In October 2018, the airport board approved the purchase of 65 acres of the Eccles Flying Hat Ranch for $2.26 million to remove about 200 cottonwood trees that the FAA had deemed “obstructions” to airplane takeoffs and landings. The tree removal process—started in June 2019 after a public-hearing process and environmental assessment—brought Friedman closer to compliance with the FAA’s mandate to have a secure runway protection zone, and pilots reported feeling safer flying in and out of the airport following the removal.

Pomeroy said the airport hopes to acquire the 385 additional acres of Eccles Flying Hat Ranch by summer or fall of 2022. The next step is completing a detailed environmental assessment.

On Tuesday, the board started the environmental assessment process by approving a $207,102 scope-of-work contract with Wisconsin-based planning firm Mead & Hunt. Company representative Brad Rolf, in attendance Tuesday, said the purpose of the environmental assessment is to evaluate and disclose potential effects from the FAA’s purchase of land, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The expected outcome here is a finding of no significant environmental impact,” Rolf said.

The environmental assessment will also explore the possibility of the airport’s developing 17 acres of the Eccles land adjacent to the existing fixed-base operator area, Pomeroy said. The land could be used for hangar space or parking if increased demand warrants it, he said.

“Including the [17 acres] in the assessment is not to say that that land is going to be developed any time soon,” he said.

Board Chairman Jacob Greenberg said Tuesday’s discussion about purchasing Eccles ranchland “couldn’t be more opportune.” In addition to providing approach and departure protection and preventing incompatible land uses, he said, the acquisition would support Hailey’s goal—specifically Councilman Sam Linnet’s goal—of maintaining a buffer between Hailey and Bellevue.

Board member Don Keirn agreed.

“This is a great project,” he said. “From working with the Boise airport, I know that the FAA will go out of its way to stop problematic development and maintain green space.”

During a sparsely attended public comment session, Wood River Land Trust Deputy Director Amy Trujillo said the Land Trust supports preserving the land as open space.

“However, this property is one of the few places that could use significant river and floodplain restoration,” she said. “I would just hope that the [land’s] agricultural designation allows for future work there.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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