Saturday, January 28, 2017

Federal Aviation Administration walks out of meeting, leaves questions about Ravalli County Airport (6S5) documents

County leaders are working out details for a new Targeted Economic Development District for the Ravalli County Airport.

HAMILTON -   After struggling with the issue since the 1970s, Ravalli County's plans to expand its airport are finally reaching resolution.

But even as the county and airport supporters are ready to celebrate there's one last mystery Friday as managers with the Federal Aviation Administration vanished from a meeting to brief county commissioners.

Ravalli County has been wrestling with the airport expansion for what seems like forever. In the past four years, commissioners have worked with the FAA to get the plan for new, longer runways through the complicated environmental review process.

The strange development happened Friday morning as commissioners started a meeting requested by FAA managers from Helena, with the board anticipating an update. The agency has finished with the Finding of No Environmental Impact, Record of Decision and Final Environmental Assessment.

But as the meeting got started before a roomful of airport users and citizens, the FAA staffers left. After several awkward minutes, Commissioner Jeff Burrows tracked them down as they left the parking lot, returning to explain the agency "wasn't prepared" to discuss the latest developments.

"They've both been signed. But apparently they have to be released for publication by the FAA headquarters," Burrows said. "FAA headquarters has not done that yet."

Commissioners were puzzled, but promised to release the final documents as soon as they have them.

"What we've been told is that as soon as those documents are released by the headquarters those are public documents and they will new released for public review," Burrows said. "So as soon as I get those they will be put on the county website and made available for the public."

Having the FAA sign those documents is a big deal. Following a 60-day window for appeal, the county would be ready to move forward with reconfiguring the airport, although that's expected to take a while longer.

"There's still a lot more thresholds to cross in the process," Burrows said. "So after this we'll have appraisal process, negotiations with the landowners. We've still got a long ways to go. This is just kind of basically that first hurdle that we've been trying to get across for a long time now."

Commissioners are expecting to have the Final Environmental Assessment and other documents early next week. 

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