By Katherine Wutz
Flying Hat Ranch may not be for sale, commissioner says
Blaine County commissioners weighed their options for airport expansion on Tuesday, discussing the need for a quick decision about bringing the current airport into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.
Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird said that T-O Engineers consultant Dave Mitchell has completed a list of eight alternatives for a new airport layout that would bring the runway safety area into compliance with C-III standards. The list is the final draft of a 90-day technical analysis of airport modification alternatives, funded by the FAA and presented in preliminary form to the Airport Authority last month.
C-III standards would allow planes with faster approach speeds and larger wingspans to operate out of the airport without special permission. Baird said that the FAA has set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, for Friedman to meet C-III compliance or risk losing commercial air service.
He said Airport Authority members will be asked on Tuesday night to give each alternative significant thought, in preparation for commenting on a preferred alternative during the authority’s December meeting.
The authority is being asked to make a decision soon, he said, because many of the projects are lengthy and project completion will be limited by short construction seasons.
“In this environment, we have five months of good construction season,” Baird said. “We can’t skip [building] this summer.”
One major obstacle is that the Flying Hat Ranch just south of the airport may not be for sale, and many of the alternatives are predicated on the authority’s being able to purchase at least part of the ranch. Commissioner Larry Schoen said he had been in contact with the ranch’s owner, who stated that the ranch would only be for sale if the authority buys all of the land. The possibility of condemning only the part of the ranch needed has been brought up in the past, but Schoen said the commissioners would prefer to act on a cooperative basis.
Schoen said that this discussion could cause a change in cost estimates for several alternatives, but the authority may be able to resell or develop any land not used by Friedman Memorial Airport.
Baird said that of the alternatives, he prefers the option that shifts the runway 1,700 feet to the south into the Flying Hat Ranch. That alternative, he said, would give the airport the runway safety area it needs while allowing room to rebuild hangars and parking, which would have to be removed to accommodate the wider safety area.
“It gives you the opportunity to replace all of the [space for] activities that you lose,” he said.