3 hours ago • By Earl Pollard
The Ravalli County airport has never been considered to be a planned airport. It was originally a private convenience for one or two aircraft owners. The landing field was just that, an open filed. Eventually the CAA (FAA) decided the private field should be part of the government’s long term goal of a designated public airport every 30 miles coast to coast. Federal funding was the major source of money that built the county the airport we have today. I know of one case where the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) sent the county a check for money to expand the airport. The county commission returned the money and told the FAA the county would make all decisions about the future of the county owned airport. This was very disturbing to the FAA who then started, in their bureaucratic fashion to see that Ravalli County bows to the government. The principal government weapon has always been funding. The county can not possibly maintain the airport in the long haul. I doubt the general public knows a tax is levied every year against every taxpayer right now to help the county maintain the airport and the amount of the levy is set by the county commission. All revenue from airport operations should be used for airport maintenance, but I understand the money goes into the county general funds.
I am convinced the entire “hairball” involving the County Airport is a waste of time and money for several basic reasons. First, the location is the worst you can conceive of. The field is located in a depression with a very high water table affecting all construction including the taxi strip and the runway. A few years ago a frost heave closed the runway. I have been told that many years ago a farm tractor bogged down to the frame and started to disappear in the field adjacent to the southern boundary of the airport. Next, the high mountains on the east and west force airport traffic patterns into terrain avoidance considerations and the valley land benches at the ends of the runway create hazards. Also the airfield location results in low above-terrain aircraft flight paths during takeoffs and landings.
Second, the airport is gradually being surrounded by residential developments. There is no question this will lead to conflicts between landowners and the aviation community. The airport is becoming liability. The doctrine of Tort Law Inverse Condemnation has generated huge and very profitable law practices across the USA. Punitive damage awards besides awards for actual damages as parts of judgments against the county is a burden the county cannot handle. Remember the airport is county property. The FAA helps out with funding and determines if the airport is safe and being operated properly. If the FAA find problems federal funds are not provided. I believe the so-called Ravalli County Safety Foundation is simply a front for vested interests promoting airport expansion since present airport safety has been determined by the FAA as completely adequate and not an issue. I understand at present the airport has a single fixed base operator (FBO) who operates as an aircraft maintenance facility and has the only aircraft fuel supply franchise. Therefore any future airport expansion results in a windfall to a single business which would actually receive a subsidy paid by the FAA and county taxpayers. There seems to be something wrong with this.
I have been working against airport expansion since the mid 1990s when I received a notice in the mail from the FAA expansion planning contractor. It seems to me it is time to face the inevitable and close the airport near Hamilton in favor of something like an athletic complex. A positive alternative to planning upgrading the county airport is to combine the resources of the county and Stevensville authorities to plan an upgrade of the Stevensville City Airport that is hands-down a better location than the present county airport.
Hamilton – ravalirepublic.com
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