A group of property owners are challenging a ruling to allow a private airstrip in the Sawtooth Valley about 15 miles south of Stanley.
A group calling itself Friends of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area are appealing the Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission’s May 6 conditional-use approval of Michael and Amanda Boren’s application designating pasture on the Hell Roaring Ranch as an airstrip, claiming the applicants failed to comply with various local, state, and federal rules and regulations.
“The applicant ignored existing codes and improved and used the airstrip without necessary permits, and then came in after the fact to obtain a permit,” attorney Michael Pogue, who is representing 65 property owners in the Hell Roaring area, said in an interview. “We feel that the permit was erroneously granted.”
On June 18, Pogue sent a letter to the Custer County commissioners calling for the approval to be rejected. In it, he claims the applicants displayed “a disturbing lack of candor” over their plans for the site.
The 60-page letter and associated documents and photographs outlines claims that the airstrip was approved without a Federal Aviation Administration requirement for an aeronautical study, that fuel storage on the site would violate the Clean Water Act, and points out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had expressed concern about possible impacts on Chinook salmon, steelhead and designated critical habitat from airstrip construction activities.
In his letter, he stated that P&Z approval failed also to consider the airstrip’s impacts on 65 nearby property owners and that due to a scenic easement protecting the view corridor in the area, the approval should not have been made until the U.S. Forest Service and Sawtooth National Recreation Area competed an analysis. The letter of appeal states that the scenic easement restrictions are under review by the Forest Service and that the Custer County P&Z Commission has requested input from the SNRA Ranger, but that neither have been completed.
“It’s not built into the county code, but we think the P&Z should have input from those most knowledgeable about it, which is the Forest Service,” Pogue said.
Pogue also claims the applicants displayed “a disturbing lack of candor” over their plans and bypassed environmental requirements, including aspects of Endangered Species Act protecting “critical” habitat.
In the run-up to the decision, opponents of the proposal, including members of the Blaine County Board of County Commissioners, argued that planes flying in and out would disrupt the natural environment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Critics also pointed out that the Borens appeared to have already constructed the air strip on their property prior to obtaining permission from county officials. Proponents said the airstrip could prove useful in emergency situations.
On May 6, Custer County’s P&Z found that the application passed the county’s land-use muster.
The P&Z issued the permit to the Borens under the condition that they could not expand the airport in the future. The commission approved the strip for “limited” personal and emergency use, though it did not place specific limits on the number of flights.
On Wednesday, Pogue said he received no indication as to whether Custer County staff will address the letter, and had received no communication back from county officials.