Guest Opinions

Airstrip in Boise’s East Foothills a terrible idea

Take a trip into the Owyhees on Dean Hilde's airplane

See Silver City, the desert south of Boise and the Snake River from a low-altitude flight into the mountains.
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See Silver City, the desert south of Boise and the Snake River from a low-altitude flight into the mountains.

The recent set of events that happened in Boise’s East Foothills proves you can never be too careful when making planning and zoning decisions. As a community we have seen the dire consequences that can occur with landslides and fire.

While determined engineers struggle to resolve the shifting terrain, people’s homes are lost and lives interrupted. And even more frightening is the thought that — without the professional valor of firefighters and first responders — we may have faced even greater loss, that of human life.

Yet it’s possible that such dire consequences may be avoided, especially when public officials make careful, prudent decisions. A daunting task indeed, but land use policy designed by Boise and residents delivers clear guidelines for making sound planning and zoning decisions for the Foothills.

Sadly, Ada County officials disregarded Boise’s city policy in a May 6 decision, approving an airfield in the Foothills outside a fire district. Since the conditional use permit for the airfield carries no fire protection, the safety of surrounding residents and nearby critical wildlife habitat is jeopardized.

If it wasn’t clear before to officials that ignoring fire zoning guidelines could be a public hazard, the June 29 Table Rock fire made the risk clear.

What could be more effective than a Foothills fire to put the value of fire districts in proper perspective? The real danger of fire to Foothills development is tough enough to combat within protected fire districts. So it is reasonable that any decisions permitting development outside a fire district ought to be put on hold, whatever the political agenda.

Perhaps it’s the right time for a moratorium, at least until Ada County considers prioritizing the agreement terms made with Boise to follow the city’s land use policy.

At best Ada County’s agreement with Boise was to collaborate on a regional preservation effort to protect open space in the Foothills and wildlife populations. At worst the county’s disregard for the agreement undermines the 20-plus years of hard work by the public and private sectors of our community to render the Boise Foothills a premier landscape.

Worse yet, such disregard undermines the effectiveness of $20 million worth of tax levies dedicated to Foothills open space. The innovative community spirit that prioritizes preservation of the Foothills landscape provides a stable, protected watershed, amazing scenery, a world-class trail system, livestock grazing and critical wildlife habitat. The wonder and splendor of Boise’s Foothills are the treasure of the valley and give us the opportunity to thrive and prosper as a community.

Right now we stand at a crossroads. It is of utmost importance that public officials unify and work together to preserve the unique vision of the Foothills landscape using the land use policy developed by our collective community values.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse , Ada County Fish & Game League and Great Old Broads for Wilderness will appeal to Ada County commissioners to reverse the decision approving an airfield in the Foothills. If this decision stands, it sets an objectionable precedent.

Angela Rossman, Boise, is a wildlife advocate and member of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Boise Chapter.