Comment was sparse Tuesday night during a Friedman Memorial Airport Authority public hearing on a plan to cut about 200 cottonwood trees just south of the airport’s runway.
The hearing addressed an environmental assessment, land acquisition process and obstruction removal for a runway protection zone consisting of 64.6 acres.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a runway protection zone is “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 encourages airports to have complete control of the runway protection zone.
The public comment period was moderated by retired 5th District Judge Robert Elgee and lasted 15 minutes, with only a handful of Wood River Valley residents commenting, and only one voicing opposition to the project.
Hailey resident David Anttila commented about his concern with the number of trees proposed to be removed to eliminate obstructions to the runway for landings and takeoffs. The roughly 200 cottonwood trees at the south end of the runway have been identified as obstructions to airport airspace. The trees are deemed to be 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.
“I would like everyone to tread cautiously,” Anttila said.
John Strauss, owner of Glass Cockpit Aviation in Hailey, spoke on behalf of the aviation and pilot community, saying the tree removal is critical for safe flight operations.
Airport Manager Chris Pomeroy said in an email Thursday that the public hearing Tuesday night was a step in the overall environmental assessment process. The comment period will remain open until May 3, and following the comment period the FAA will formulate responses to all comments received for the administrative record, and then will issue a determination.
In December, the Airport Authority authorized the deposit of $400,000 in earnest money under the terms of a purchase agreement with Eccles Flying Hat Ranch for the acquisition of the runway protection land. All documents regarding the land acquisition and the environmental assessment are available on the airport’s website, at iflysun.com.