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Eminent domain suggested for Idaho airport growth

A Blaine County commissioner says he’s willing to use eminent domain to acquire land needed for a possible expansion of a central Idaho airport in Hailey that serves the resort area of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

In the memo to airport Manager Rick Baird, Commissioner Larry Schoen wrote of “my willingness and preparedness to proceed to the assertion of eminent domain and acquisition by condemnation of any lands that could be determined to be necessary for expansion of Friedman Memorial Airport.”

But Hailey City Councilman Fritz Haemmerle told the Idaho Mountain Express that it’s a rogue memo without authorization from the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, a group of local officials who would decide whether to attempt to use eminent domain.

“Not a single one of our FMAA representatives has brought this to the City Council,” Haemmerle said. “If you’re on a board, you’re a member of a board, and you don’t go directing people like this without having board authority.”

The memo, obtained by the newspaper and published Oct. 14, also cites Marc Reinemann. Schoen said Reinemann represents Flying Hat Ranch owner Spencer Eccles, whose land would be needed to expand the airport.

Schoen told the newspaper he was prompted to draft the memo after Reinemann called him to ask that eminent domain be used to acquire part of the ranch because it could provide a tax advantage for Eccles.

When reached by the newspaper, Reinemann declined to comment.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that Friedman Memorial Airport should be moved because of expanding residential areas and high hills that make the airfield too dangerous. Local leaders are concerned about the potential loss of commercial service and the economic damage to the county that could result if something isn’t done.

Local officials are considering expanding the airport to meet federal standards after expenses that soared to more than $300 million made a plan to move the airport south less desirable. In August, the FAA said it had stopped work on an environmental impact study on a new airport because of increased costs of the new airport and potential impacts on wildlife.

The agency said it’s now waiting for airport and city officials to decide whether to continue with plans to move the airport south before the agency will continue spending money to complete the study. Baird said no decisions have been made about expanding the airport.

Schoen said the memo doesn’t mean the eminent domain process has been started, and he suggested any such assertions were based on an attempt to get an advantage in future elections.

“It’s very unsettling to me that anybody would be jumping to conclusions and becoming emotional or distraught without trying to understand it further,” he said. “I fear politics are creeping into the equation.”

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