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Kearns and Sons

Hamilton airport expansion ill advised

 

Dear Editor,

I expect in a short span of years in the future there will be a ground swell of public sentiment aimed at closing the Ravalli County Airport. The ex-county airport outside of Stevensville may provide an alternative.

In its present location there is no logic to expand the county airport outside of Hamilton to provide for the convenience of a comparatively few very wealthy residents and apprehensive fixed base operators.

The Missoula International Airport is expanding again and the fixed base operators (FBOs) can provide every aspect of aircraft support a owner can require far beyond any possible operation here. In Missoula the FAA has aircraft traffic control, landing aids including radar and every service provided by an aircraft owner. The hitch here is that scheduled airlines must accommodate light aircraft operations.

On the other hand the Ravalli County Airport is in such a poor location and has evolved over the years as a sport flying airport for the benefit of the residents who obtain private pilots licenses and own small “fun to fly” planes which have not been in production for many decades. Those wonderful flying machines are becoming antiques. Non-scheduled aircraft activities are already expensively prohibitive. Just like the evolution of sport flying from the days of the “jenny” airports have expanded to meet needs of users. Here on the edge of Hamilton the original grass field landing area has evolved into a small sport flying airport with a paved runway, and a good safety margin for use by the majority of small aircraft available to the general public has reached a point where further expansion will be extremely expensive, disruptive and a pariah.

The growing popular sentiment against government spending is in contrast to the Ravalli County commission’s call for the government providing eighty percent of the cost of airport expansion, projected to be in the millions, kind of tells everyone how our commissioners operate. Why in the world are the commissioners hiring a third small time contractor to repeat the work of two very large and well qualified firms who have spent about 10 years researching the airport? Probably because their reports did not resoundingly support expansion and if you look long enough and spend lots of money you can find an expert to support anything. The propaganda we hear and read supporting the building of an expanded “jetport” probably originated with the airport businesses facing a dilemma masked as airport safety advocates, coupled with the deep pockets of a comparatively few very wealthy residents and visitors who are accustomed to the conveniences of their life style.

If the airport remains in its present configuration the business future of the FBOs, those businesses making a living from airport operations, could be grim in light of the situation in Washington D.C. No matter how you cut it the airport cannot remain open without federal financial assistance every year.

Add to that the mill tax levied against the residents in the County every year, the one we don’t talk about. I understand the county commission can increase the airport tax levy any time they wish. Revenue from airport operations originally were to be held in escrow designated for airport expenses. The last time I checked that revenue was being diverted into the County general fund to be spent anyway the Commission wished. If the airport is removed the FBOs are gone and the County can make lots of money selling the land to real-estate companies developing the sweetest vacant property in the Valley. Or maybe a public park with soccer fields, baseball diamonds and other recreational facilities can occupy this county property. If the airport remains in its present configuration with the proposed improvement of the existing runway everyone who operates a sport aircraft is a winner, but the FBOs and maybe the individuals who have built facilities far beyond existing requirements in anticipation of a future jetport lose.
In the past fifteen years, or there about, the suffering everyday resident and land owner has discovered a legal maneuver called Reverse Condemnation. Here the public has found a voice. I understand that a Writ of Mandamus issued from a court of superior jurisdiction to halt airport activities, followed by civil action called Reverse (or inverse) Condemnation gives a possible remedy to the residents who claim their enjoyment of life and their well being have been degraded by local government activities. Airports around the nation have been targets of very powerful law firms specializing in Tort Law actions. This action can end in substantial financial penalties and punitive judgments against the government entity, in this case the Ravalli County government.
Earl Pollard
Hamilton

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