BURLEY — A plan for a new Mini-Cassia airport will soon be under scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The city held a meeting Thursday at Burley City Hall where the public heard details of the plan and got a first glimpse at sketches of the proposed airport.
The city has tried to relocate its municipal airport for decades but government officials or landowners have always spoken out against it, challenging efforts. A task-force in 2016 identified two possible sites for a new airport, including the one south of Interstate 84 and Exit 216 that will soon go before several FAA divisions that will look for red flags in the plan.
“If everything runs grease smooth we are looking at four to five years before anybody will be out there turning dirt,” said Rick Patton, an aviation planner with GDA Engineers.
The site runs parallel to Interstate 84 on the south side of the interstate east of Exit 216 and is designed in three phases over 20 years.
The plan includes room for the airport to grow if needed, Patton said.
Once the FAA approves the plan it will come back to the community for approval.
Meanwhile, Mark Mitton said, the Idaho Legislature must write legislation and approve a mechanism that will allow Minidoka County and Cassia County to create an airport taxing district, similar to a highway district.
Once the legislation is in place the voters that would be included in that district would have to approve the district’s formation.
The district would include two representatives on a board from each county and one member at large.
Minidoka County Commissioner Bob Moore asked if the taxing district would require a super majority to pass.
“I don’t know yet because the legislation hasn’t been written,” Mitton said.
The city of Burley is currently the sole sponsor of the airport, which means they are the legal owners and have the right to obligate the ground.
Patton said they need to have a bigger coalition of support for the new airport.
Mitton said if voters approve establishing the taxing district, plans for the new airport will move forward. If the community votes against it, the new airport won’t be built and the city will close the existing airport due to lack of funding by the FAA.
“The FAA has told us they won’t fund the Burley airport anymore and this airport will eventually close,” Mitton said. “We’d like to get a new airport in place before that happens.”
Patton said they are still working on establishing cost estimates for the airport at the preferred site along with figures on what the tax burden would be for property owners in the taxing district.
In past years the city received about $150,000 a year in FAA funding for maintenance of the current airport, but that funding stopped when the FAA determined the Burley airport did not meet its standards.
Patton said if the new airport plan is accepted by the FAA and the community then the environmental assessment phase will begin, which can take up to two years to complete. Then property acquisition would begin, which entails abiding by federal regulations for establishing property values and buying property.
“We are a long way from property acquisition,” Patton said.
The property included at the site is owned by Lynn and Lisa Taylor, Midnight Sun Inc. and Mark T. Newcomb.
Residents asked about how wildlife like geese, deer, skunks and elk would be controlled at the new site.
Patton said the plan includes an 8-foot fence designed to keep wildlife and unauthorized people out.
Questions regarding how money from the sale of the current airport will be used were also posed.
Mitton said if a new airport is built, the money will be used for the new airport, if voters decide against forming an airport taxing district, it is unclear where the money will go.
Years ago, Burley Councilman Jon Anderson said, the FAA told the city that the airport land had been obligated as an airport for so many years that the money from its sale would be turned back to them.
“The city would still own the ground but you would essentially buy back your obligation,” Patton said.