The Camas County commissioners cleared the way for a large private airport near Fairfield on Monday, voting unanimously to approve an application by Ix-Nay Investment Trust for a land-use map change and a rezone of 300 acres north of U.S. Highway 20 to accommodate its construction.
In October, the county Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-1 to approve a conditional-use permit for the proposed Soldier Field Airport, which was a final decision. They also recommended to the county commissioners a change to the comprehensive plan map and a rezone of 300 acres 10 miles east and 1.5 miles north of the intersection of Highway 20 and Soldier Road.
Monday’s decision marks the end of Ix-Nay’s major land use obstacles in Camas County.
“They met the qualification requirements of the county,” said Camas County Planning and Zoning Administrator Dwight Butlin. Now, though, “several other agencies” need to sign off, Butland said, including the Environmental Protection Agency.
The proposed airport has been contentious for many years. Some claim it will bring much-needed economic development to the rural region, while others say the environmental and noise impacts would be devastating to Camas Prairie.
“If this zoning change is rammed through, permitting such a large, noisy and toxic airport, the perennial beauty of this extraordinary prairie will be forever lost, never to be regained,” Judith Freeman, a 25-year Camas County, told the Express in September.
In October, P&Z Chairman Jerry Nelson said that the airport is needed.
“Camas County has been in decline since the 1960s. The benefit for the county will be better than what 1,600 acres of marginal agricultural land can provide,” Nelson said.
There were more than three hours of public comments both for and against the rezone and map changes on Monday.
The proposed airport would be built on a 1,600-acre parcel and include an 8,500-foot runway that could land small aircraft as well as “very large general aviation aircraft” including the Boeing 737-800, according to a master plan submitted by Ix-Nay Investment Trust.
The individuals behind Ix-Nay’s application have not been publicly identified. Actor Bruce Willis used Ix-Nay Investment Trust to purchase several properties in Hailey in the 1990s. In 2004, he offered to donate land in Camas County near Highway 20 for a potential relocation site for Friedman Memorial Airport, but the site was not chosen and the relocation effort later stalled.
In 2016, Willis began construction on a dirt landing strip in the area, triggering concerns by locals and changes to county land use regulations.
Ix-Nay’s attorney, Gary Slette, said in an interview that he would not comment on whether Willis was behind the proposed development.
“Ix-Nay is my client,” Slette said. “I will not comment further.”
Slette said Ix-Nay received approval years ago from the Federal Aviation Authority for use of airspace around the airport, but the applicant’s engineer has stated that there are “about 20” permitting issues that the developer would have to work through with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I don’t know the scheduling of those submissions for the EPA,” Slette said.
There could also be permitting hurdles to pass with Camas County officials. On Tuesday, Butlin said he did not know whether the county would require a building permit for the runway. Neither did Slette.
“I don’t know if the county will require a building permit for the airport runway,” he said. “I know we would have to submit building permit applications for hangars and other buildings.”