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Some 200 cottonwood trees are being removed south of Friedman Memorial Airport in a project to clear obstructions to the runway for landing and takeoff.

Tree removal began Monday just south of Friedman Memorial Airport to eliminate about 200 cottonwood trees on the Eccles Flying Hat Ranch deemed obstructions for airplanes during landing and takeoff.

Following a public comment period and completion of an environmental assessment, the Federal Aviation Administration made a finding of no significant impact on May 24, allowing the work to commence.

Airport Manager Chris Pomeroy said the first phase of the project should be completed by next week, with the second phase to begin in October to remove the tree stumps and roots from the ground.

The trees are deemed a safety issue because they force pilots to pull up sooner on takeoff, effectively shortening the runway by 400 feet, according to a draft environmental assessment sent to the FAA for approval more than two years ago.

The $2.26 million price for the runway protection land, consisting of about 65 acres of the ranch, was approved by the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board on Oct. 24. On Dec. 4, the board authorized deposit of $400,000 in earnest money.

The FAA defines a runway protection zone as “an area at ground level prior to the threshold or beyond the runway end to enhance the safety and protection of people and property on the ground.” The airport’s master plan states that this area is critical to the safety of the public near the airport, and for that reason the FAA encouraged the airport to have complete control of the runway protection zone.

JPA to expire

During the Airport Authority’s monthly meeting Tuesday, the airport’s contracted attorney, Jim Laski, reminded the board that the joint powers agreement between Blaine County and the city of Hailey, dated July 2011, is set to expire at the end of 2020. The agreement provides the legal basis for the Airport Authority.

“Such a termination would result in the termination of the FMAA as an entity, having serious impacts on the continuation of airport activities. …,” a briefing for Tuesday’s meeting stated.

County board members said they would take up discussion on the agreement following conclusion of the county’s budget process in August.

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