Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Camas County airport zoning hearing canceled: Commission chairwoman denies Federal Aviation Administration form details

A public hearing on a recommended zoning change that would allow private airports on agricultural land in Camas County originally scheduled for Monday was canceled the previous Thursday afternoon due to an error in the public notice, which was published each of the three weeks prior.

It is unclear when the hearing will be rescheduled, but the county commissioners will consider setting a new date at their Aug. 14 meeting, commission Chairwoman Barb Cutler said.  

The zoning change would move “private aircraft landing fields or airports” from the county zoning code’s 2-4A-4 section, which lists conditional uses requiring case-by-case approval, to the code’s 2-4A-3 section, which lists permitted uses that require no additional approval. The change would permit the completion of actor Bruce Willis’ Soldier Field Airport, a controversial 8,500-foot-long, 100-foot-wide concrete-runway airstrip with high-intensity lighting and an anticipated 500 monthly landings that remains partly built on the Camas Prairie east of Fairfield.

However, the public notice transposed the code section numbers in one paragraph while listing the sections correctly in another, leading county leaders to cancel the hearing out of concern for perhaps having violated public notice requirements for the zoning change.

“Better safe than sorry,” County Attorney Matt Pember said Monday, adding that the county needed to “make sure all our ducks are in a row” before proceeding with the zoning change, which has already been voided by court order once, due in part to a public notice law violation.

The first recommendation to allow private airports on AG-80 land was made by the Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 1, and the county commissioners made that change in December, but 5th District Judge Robert Elgee ruled in a lawsuit filed by residents near Willis’ airport that the county had violated state law by failing to publicly notice the intended change.

Elgee’s ruling also stated that allowing airports of unrestricted size and operation violated the Camas County comprehensive plan, which places priority on the county’s rural characteristics. Elgee voided and remanded back to the county the portion of the zoning ordinance pertaining to airports.

Residents sued the county when the new zoning ordinance allowed construction to continue on Soldier Field Airport, following a stop-work order issued by the county.

Camas County has appealed the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Representatives of Willis have declined to say why the actor wants to build an airstrip 1,000 feet longer than the runway at Friedman Memorial Airport, in Hailey, in the rural Camas Prairie.

Cutler disputes airstrip details

County Commission Chairwoman Cutler, who voted for the now-voided zoning change in December and has said she supports voting in favor of the change again, said in an interview Tuesday that construction and operation specifications of Soldier Field Airport listed on an FAA form brought to light two weeks ago are irrelevant to the current recommended zoning change and to Soldier Field Airport because the form was for a public airport.

The document, an FAA 7840 form requesting an airspace determination, specifies an 8,500-foot-long, 100-foot-wide runway with a concrete surface, though county leaders and previous reports have stated that the runway will be dirt. The applicant, Ix-Nay Investment Trust, states on the form that an estimated 20 aircraft will be based at the airport, and that there could be 200 single-engine plane landings, 150 multi-engine plane landings and 150 jet plane landings each month, totaling 500 landings.

Steve Engebrecht, lead airport engineer at the FAA’s Helena, Mont., airport district office, confirmed that the copy of the 7840 form obtained by the Idaho Mountain Express is current and accurate, and civil engineer Larry Bauman, who formerly worked for Willis and submitted the document, said the specifications in the document reflect the proponent’s intentions for the airport.

Though the form specified the airport’s ownership and operation as private, Cutler said the FAA form was for a public Soldier Field Airport, and is therefore irrelevant to the specifications of Soldier Field Airport, which she maintained was private and would have a dirt surface. When informed that the form categorized Soldier Field Airport as private and specified it as having a concrete surface, Cutler said, “Maybe their definition of private is different than ours.”

Cutler then said, “I’m not going to discuss this with you,” and said she would no longer answer questions about the FAA form or the airport specifications therein.

Original article can be found here ► http://www.mtexpress.com

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