Open letter to Commissioners:
This letter is written on behalf of my clients, ICAARE, and other concerned citizens regarding the proposed expansion of the Ravalli County Airport.
The revocation of Resolution 1244, and/or change in the previously agreed upon Alternative 2A will be a serious mistake on your part that will hurt the citizens of Ravalli County in two ways.
First, Resolution 1244 is a democratic means of insuring that the voters have input on a county-wide basis regarding expansion of the runaway at the airport. Eliminating that vote is decidedly undemocratic because it undermines a previous bargain the Commissioners made with the voters and denies them appropriate input into an important matter.
Second, altering the plan to proceed with 2A will potentially cost the County hundreds of thousands of dollars. In this times of tight government budgets, and in light of your professed concerns to lower
government costs, further indebting the taxpayers is unconscionable.
Resolution 1244 is part of an agreement made by the County to make sure the voters had a vote before runway expansion could be approve. For you to act now, on such short notice, to revoke Resolution 1244 deprives the voters of their input and reneges on that agreement. You
cannot reasonably justify taking away that right, especially on such short notice. You were elected to represent all citizens. Who are you serving when you eliminate their right to vote on airport expansion? You need to candidly address that issue and to date you have not done so.
Alternative 2A has already been approved by the FAA in its draft Record of Decision. The project is ready to proceed, its costs are known. The benefit to public safety is addressed in the EA. If you eliminate 2A and proceed with another alternative, you will cause the following
problems for Ravalli County:
1. Delaying any changes at the airport for 2-5 years, the time it will take to revise the EA and/or prepare an EIS. Any revisions will be expensive – look at what has already been spent to understand how expensive the environmental review process is. If a 5,200 foot runway is considered or the design changed, in my opinion a full Environmental Impact Statement is required. I base this opinion on 25 years expertise on the matter. I have taught the subject at the University of Montana Law School for two decades. The comments raised in the current process
reveal potential impacts that will have to be addressed in an EIS; otherwise the document will be subject to challenge in court. New studies will be needed. A consulting firm will need to be hired. There is no way to lawfully short-circuit this process.
2. An EIS will cost as much as a million dollars, perhaps more. The information in the current document is stale and will have to be updated. Who will fund this? It is my understanding that in this climate of current budget cuts at the federal level championed by the Tea Party and others, such discretionary funds are not likely to be available to FAA. That would leave Ravalli County with the bill for the new environmental review.
3. Public safety issues, if they are valid, will remain unaddressed during the review process. The federal government may lack funds 2-5 years from now to assist Ravalli County in building the airport expansion. Will the taxpayers foot the bill?
4. Any new process will require the FAA to address the 26 pages of comments submitted by ICAARE. In the spirit of cooperation my clients graciously agreed to tentatively forego the legal requirement of addressing those comments because 2A appeared to have fewer impacts.
By this letter, the County and FAA are informed that any new review of the airport EA necessitates addressing the previous comments. You are bound by law to open the process to new comments.
There is no small irony in the fact that those of you that are newly elected Commissioners were elected on a promise of fiscal responsibility and a commitment to open government, now appear willing to embark on a course of action that will be costly, time consuming and likely to invite legal challenge. You are giving up on a process that is nearly
complete, fiscally responsible and open to the people. I urge you to refrain from such an ill conceived course of action on limited public notice. I invite further public dialogue.
Jack R. Tuholske, Attorney for ICAARE