Airstrip

The Custer County commissioners will hear an appeal on Aug. 25 of Michael and Amanda Boren’s conditional use permit designating a pasture as a private airstrip 15 miles south of Stanley on their Hell Roaring Ranch.

The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. in the Challis Community Event Center at 411 Clinic Road in Challis. Public testimony will be taken. Written comments will be accepted through today, Aug. 18, until 5 p.m. by e-mail to jclemenhagen@co.custer.id.us.

The Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission approved the Boren’s CUP on May 20, which quickly led to an organized effort and legal challenge by nearby landowners to repeal it.

Those opponents claim that an airstrip on the ranch violates a scenic easement on the property, which sits in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area east of the Sawtooth Mountains. Other aspects of the complaint argue that fuel tanks could jeopardize “critical” habitat for wildlife in and around the nearby Salmon River, and that the airstrip was already built before the Boren’s sought approval.

Todd Cranney, a representative for the Borens, said that there isn’t a formal airstrip on the property, and that the Borens don’t plan to develop one.

“We were surprised at the amount of opposition to simply using grass pasturelands on private property to occasionally land aircraft,” Cranney told the Express in an email interview. “There is not now, nor has there ever been, a ‘built’ or constructed airstrip. Nor will there be in the future.”

Small aircraft do land sometimes on an irrigated grass pasture at the Hell Roaring site, Cranney said, all within the private property rights of the Boren family. According to Cranney, the Borens followed all regulations in applying for the permit, and that it is legal and appropriate to operate an airstrip under the scenic easement, which limits development.

SNRA guidelines call for the protection of “natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values.”

“The intermittent and occasional use of the pasture to land small aircraft does not violate any terms of the [conservation] easement,” Cranney said.

The co-founder of Boise-based financial technology company Clearwater Analytics, Michael Boren has stated that the airstrip is needed for transportation between his multiple ranching activities. A $1.1 million private aircraft hangar has already been built on the property, according to a story on the build written in the industry magazine ICF Builder.

Boren’s supporters say the airstrip could prove useful in emergency situations. Some local search and rescue personnel opposed to the project reject that claim, stating publicly that the airstrip would not be necessary for air ambulance helicopters that could land almost anywhere in the Sawtooth basin.

Public airports operate both 15 miles to the north and 15 miles to the south of Boren’s ranch, in in Stanley and Smiley Creek.

Michael Pogue, an attorney for the opposition group, claims that local, state and federal regulations have been violated.

“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,” Pogue said in an interview last month.

Cranney said improvements made to the field, including leveling and other work, were completed on pasture for “irrigation efficiency.” They did not make the pasture more useful for landing aircraft, he said, nor have they led to increased use.

“In making these improvements to their ranch, the Borens followed all the proper permitting processes and engaged wetlands, endangered species, general environmental and irrigation specialists at considerable expense to themselves and took the experts’ advice,” Cranney said. “Approval of this CUP would have no environmental impact on the Salmon River.”

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Business Council members Ladd Edmo and Elma Thomas disagree. They’re calling for Custer County to repeal of the airstrip permit, citing potential environmental hazards.

Edmo said he assumes the Tribes, whose traditional territory includes the Sawtooth Valley, did not comment on the original conservation easement in 1974.

“We do not approve of this conditional use permit for the Boren Airport,” Edmo said. “The wildlife have no voice to oppose development. The Sawtooth Valley is one of kind in our ancestral homelands. This valley has already been overused. Stop now for our future generations to come.”

The Custer County P&Z issued the permit to Boren under the condition that he 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.

Airstrip critics, including the Blaine County commissioners, argued that planes flying in and out would disrupt the natural environment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Several of the neighbors who brought the appeal said that this is already taking place.

Meanwhile, Pogue said, the former name of the opposition group, “Friends of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area,” that had been used since mid-June, was “hijacked” on July 2 by people close to the Boren family. That name is now registered to Joshua Leonard, an attorney at the Boise law firm Clark Wardle, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. Its directors include a “T. Cranney” and an “M. Maglione.” The filings do not include first names of directors, though last year Amanda Boren shared an address with a Marcantonio Maglione, according to campaign finance records on file with the Secretary of State’s Office. Todd Cranney was interviewed for this story.

The opposition group now calls itself “Advocates for the Sawtooth Recreation Area.”

“We could still use the name but it creates problems given that they have already registered the name with the Secretary of State,” Pogue said. “I think it was an effort to undermine our outreach efforts.”

The group has plans to bring people to Challis in a school bus for the public appeal hearing.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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