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Custer County Holds Hearing On Airstrip Appeal

Tom Michael
Boise State Public Radio

Custer County Commissioners will hear an appeal Wednesday evening on a decision to give landowners Michael and Amanda Boren a conditional use permit for an airstrip on their property.

The Custer County Planning and Zoning Board granted the Borens a permit in May to operate a runway on their ranch about 15 miles south of Stanley.

That angered neighbors and part-time residents who say the Borens have been flying in and out of the property for a few years without a permit. The private land is in the federally-protected Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The Borens applied for a permit with Custer County in February to officially recognize the “grass area occasionally used as a runway” as a designated county airstrip.

Advocates for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a new advocacy group formed by Custer County and Blaine County residents who oppose the Borens’ permit, succeeded in getting the county to hold the upcoming appeal hearing in Challis.

A Custer County administrator estimated there have been more than 200 written comments in advance of this particular meeting.

Andy Munter, a Ketchum and Custer County resident who’s upset by the process, got involved with the opposition effort and said it could open up the door for more conflict regarding the SNRA.

“They’re going to be seeing more and more people with a lot of money moving into Custer County and trying to do, kind of, whatever they want,” he said.

The citizens’ advocacy group and its lawyer argue the Borens’ airstrip is not in compliance with local, state and federal laws. Their list includes alleged violations of the Clean Water Act regarding how the Borens store fuel on the property and noncompliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Kirk Flannigan, the area ranger for the Sawtooth National Forest, weighed in on the issue earlier this month. He said the airstrip does not comply with the Forest Service’s scenic easement on the property, which it acquired for $612,600 in 1974, because it hasn’t been permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Todd Cranney, a spokesperson for the Borens, said the airstrip is in compliance with all regulatory bodies, including the FAA, and that the parties have provided that documentation to the Forest Service and the county. Cranney also maintained that Borens have not paved a runway, but have just been landing in a grass pasture.

The Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission found the Borens’ use of the airstrip to be in compliance with county code, assuming it continues to be limited to “private use and occasional emergency use.”

And though Flannigan said the airstrip was out of compliance with the Forest Service's scenic easement, he also said the development on the property right now is not “materially detracting or substantially impairing the values of the SNRA.” Still, he said further development and increased use of the airstrip would be a concern that could lead to an easement violation.

Correction: This story originally referred to Andy Munter as Alan Munter.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.