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Idaho Senate considers airport planning bill

A bill introduced in the Idaho state Senate would require local land-use planning agencies to consider airports in their required comprehensive planning efforts. Currently, the state’s airport zoning act authorizes the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Aeronautics to zone for airports, while the land-use planning act authorizes local governments to zone for all uses. 

But the Idaho Transportation Department has never been able to exercise its authority to zone for airports, due to a lack of available expertise and resources. In addition, the land-use planning act states that local jurisdictions “may” complete planning and zoning around airports. There are many instances where inadequate planning and zoning around airports have led to incompatible uses around the local airport, which can result in safety issues for airport users and surrounding neighbors, create pressure for operating restrictions or closures at many airports, or in some cases, expensive airport relocation.

Stakeholders including the Idaho Airport Management Association, Idaho Aviation Association, aviation community, airport managers, planning organizations, cities, and counties have worked to draft Senate Bill 1265, which will result in closer collaboration between local zoning authorities, local airport authorities, and the Idaho Transportation Department in the interest of flight and community safety.

One of the main provisions of the proposed legislation is repealing the Idaho Transportation Department’s authority to zone for airports and requiring the political subdivision having zoning ordinance authority to complete planning and zoning around airports in accordance with Idaho state statutes.

The bill identifies public airports as essential community facilities that provide safe transportation alternatives and contribute to the economy of the state. It also requires that planning and zoning commissions consider as part of their comprehensive plan, with the assistance of the Idaho Transportation Department (if requested by the local agency) and the local airport manager (or person in charge of the airport), the current and future needs and community impacts of the airport. Local planning and zoning commissions (and their governing boards) would be required to notify the local airport manager (or person in charge) when recommending, adopting, amending, or repealing their comprehensive plan. 

In addition, the notification requirement pertaining to the local airport manager (or person in charge of the airport) applies to other land-use actions that require public notice, including special-use permits, conditional-use permits, transfer of development rights, and variances, when encroaching on the airport or creating an aviation hazard.

This bill will be an effective tool to protect Idaho’s public-use airports, said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy. “As AOPA advocates for general aviation and works to protect airports across the country, we frequently see airports threatened with operational restrictions or closure, most often due to surrounding incompatible land use,” he said. “Residential encroachment on airports results in neighbors complaining about noise, pollution, and other hazards. Poor planning often leaves airports surrounded by houses, churches, schools, and other sensitive development.  

“With Senate Bill 1265 requiring local land-use planners to recognize their airports in their comprehensive plans, the community can better coexist with their airport; local, state, and federal airport investments are protected; and the significant economic benefits created by airports in Idaho can endure,” said Pecoraro.

AOPA is strongly supporting this legislation, and formally voiced that support in a letter to Jeff Siddoway, chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. “As noted in the 2008 Idaho Airport System Plan’s Economic Impact Analysis, airports in Idaho create $2.1 billion of annual economic activity and sustain 23,000 family wage jobs with over $718 million in annual wages,” wrote AOPA Northwest Regional Manager David Ulane. “Ensuring the long-term sustainability of this impact means protecting the state’s airports.”

The bill, introduced on Jan. 31, has been referred to the Idaho Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. As of Feb. 2, no hearing had been scheduled, but AOPA expects the bill to be heard quickly, and will closely monitor it progress and weigh in further as appropriate.

AOPA members in Idaho are urged to contact their lawmakers, especially those on the Local Government and Taxation Committee, and encourage them to support Senate Bill 1265 and pass this important legislation to the full Senate for further consideration.

Topics: Advocacy, Financial, Aviation Industry

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