BURLEY — The city began discussions on Monday with Cassia County and Minidoka County officials as a prelude to deciding who will own the land for the new joint Mini-Cassia airport and how it will be governed.
The city has tried to relocate its municipal airport for decades but met with opposition from government officials and landowners who challenged the efforts. In 2016, a task force comprised of people from across Mini-Cassia identified two possible sites, including one south of Interstate 84 near exit 216. The land is owned by an investment group, the Newcomb family and Lynn Taylor. The city completed the Burley Airport master plan last year. City Administrator Mark Mitton said the plans were reconfigured for an east-west runway layout that reduces airport impact to surrounding land.
Studies on the current airport, which lacks sufficient safety zones surrounding it to meet federal aviation standards, have been done periodically since 1992, Mitton said.
Project Engineer Rick Patton, who worked on the airport master plan, said the FAA will not continue to fund the city’s airport unless progress is made toward meeting the standards for safety areas.
The airport is landlocked and it would be impractical to add length to the runways to meet the standards, Patton said.
The next step, he said, will be for the two counties to make some decisions on who should own the land and how the airport should be governed.
Whoever owns the land essentially sponsors the airport and will set up the legal framework. A governing body will oversee the airport and a manager hired to be on site day to day.
The site feasibility study will then come next, Patton said.
Because the airport will be a general aviation airport, the FAA will pay up to 90 percent of eligible costs for things like the runway, taxiway and aprons, the state is expected to chip in 2 percent and the airport sponsor will be responsible for 8 percent of those costs. Eligible items include the site analysis, land acquisition, master design, and five phases of the project with costs estimated at $35.9 million.
Costs for non-reimbursable FAA items like buildings, access road, fuel systems, hangers that will be leased, and buildings bring the total cost estimates to $41.3 million.
The city of Burley is required to put the money it receives from the current airport into the new one, which will cover some of the sponsor costs and the airport may be eligible for grants, Patton said.
Having an airport is vital to the area’s continued economic development, Mitton said.
Patton said the current airport is used by individuals, businesses, for medical transport and is the local hub for overnight cargo coming into the area.
Cassia County Commissioner Leonard Beck asked if there are individuals who refuse to fly into the current airport. Mitton said many people lease planes rather than own them now and some insurance companies will no longer allow their planes to fly into the Burley airport.
“The state doesn’t want to fly in the governor on hot summer days,” Patton said. “That size plane really has issues here.”
Beck suggested that the commissioners convene at the same place and time during the next meeting, which was not scheduled.