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Kearns and Sons

Lame duck airport follies

By Chuck DeWitt, Hamilton

There are a lot of good reasons to oppose the current plan to lengthen our airport (RCA) runway, but probably the best is that it is supported by the three Commissioners who just took a shellacking by their own party (OK, one just got spanked as the lesser evil). So much do they support the runway expansion that they 1) killed a done deal fully approved by the previous Commission, ICAARE and the FAA (after 40 years of trying); and, 2) rescinded a long standing citizen’s right to vote on airport runway expansion (so much for the spirit of the Constitution).

Now in a final act of hubris (hopefully final) they, with the same political deafness that they exhibited throughout their single term, are interpreting their rejection by the voters as a mandate to perpetuate this runway expansion folly (like Obama, it seems like they’ve been messing with our lives forever).

So I think that your support or opposition boils down to this: if you think the three Commissioners erudite in their policy making and/or if you are one of the handful of readers who might someday get a ride on one of these plush, big jets (I envy you), you should probably vote in favor of the big jets.

Alternatively, if you doubt these Commissioners capable of reading the 600 page Environmental Assessment (EA) document perceptively, you probably want to contact the FAA and put a stop to this folly. Note: an EA is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) light. The current EA basically says that we don’t have any problems – none, zippo, zilch – and will not in the future after an undetermined number and size of jets start operating on our new supersized runway. This new runway is not only bigger, it’s permanent, virtually forever … concrete and steel.  We’re talking the Foss/Stolz Memorial Airport… big jets rattling the windows of your kid’s, grandkid’s and great-grandkid’s school, mutant prairie dogs suffering multigenerational lead poisoning, pilotless drones, short-landing 747s. Once the expanded runway is built, we lose all control over the size and number of jets landing in our narrow little alpine valley… the sky is quite literally the limit!

The Commissioners have one more chance to reflect on their (i.e. our) legacy so I thought the reader might want to help prepare them for the final public hearing. I’m sure the Commissioners will appreciate it.

Commissioner Foss - As the Commission’s representative to the County Airport Board, please reveal the identity of the benefactor(s) who is channeling the County’s financial share of the project through the Aviation Safety Foundation (a small pro-airport expansion lobby) and what will be the County’s obligations to them (in addition to building them a jetport)? Are they donors to your or any other Commissioner’s campaign?

Commissioner Foss - You frequently mention being a grandmother, so are you aware that jet engines exhaust lead? If so, what amount of lead is forthcoming from the undetermined number and size of large jets and how far will it disseminate? Will your grandkids be attending Hamilton High School?

Commissioner Stolz - You have specialized in the internal workings of the Public Works Department during your tenure as RCC. The EA is silent on the disposition, storage and removal of the 500,000 cubic yards of gravel that is in the path of the proposed new, longer runway. Do you have any thoughts? Future costs?

Commissioner Burrows - In contrast to several previous EA’s, the 2014 EA provides little budget detail (I’m sure that is no reflection on the ability of the current Commissioners to comprehend treasury functions). Are you aware that this plan is projected to cost $7.8M whereas several, previous, similar projects were budgeted in the $17M-$20M range. If it be real, congratulations, but a skeptic would wonder if there are other phases not disclosed in this EA… is this a pig in a poke?

Commissioner Foss - The high dollar benefactors paying the County share of the federal grant are understandably dead tired of driving to the Valley from Missoula or perhaps switching to a noisy, drafty helicopter. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy them a smaller commuter jet to motor down to the Valley? Win, win, win! The jet owners don’t have to endure the tedious drive, the FAA gets a new cost center on which to burn our tax dollars and we, the 99%, don’t have to mount our biennial protest to fend off the disgruntled rich and the FAA to protect our Valley’s natural resources and serenity. (Note: Please don’t give me the credit for this idea.)

If you think that the “Suzy Foss County Jetport” is another one of Suzy’s follies, contact the FAA soon and tell them to butt out of our County business and say “no” to the runway expansion and big jets.

FAA: Daniel Norderud, dan@rpa-hln.com

Commissioners: gwiles @rc.mt.gov

Finally, I don’t mean to compound the post-election loss angst of our outgoing Commissioners, but you did take away our right to vote.

 

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