Election years undoubtedly bring change to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority (FMAA) board. This year, Larry Schoen will retire from his role as a Blaine County Commissioner. While he’ll be greatly missed as a board member, we know it’s not the last time he’ll be involved with the airport. Prior to his tenure as a Blaine County official, Larry was an integral part of FMAA meetings. He was a voice for the community — an advocate for both employees and travelers at the airport.
With a drive to always question and broaden the spectrum of challenges the board faced, Larry encouraged others to be solutions-oriented while keeping the bigger picture in mind. He tactfully involved the who, what, when, where, and why’s in every decision.
Larry’s initial involvement began prior to the discussion of airport relocation — back when the airport board was only five members; now, the board has seven members. The team consist of county members, three city of Hailey members, and one independent member. While Larry became a county commissioner in 2007, his stint on the board did not begin until 2009; his predecessor requested to stay on the board while the talks of relocation continued. The continuation was mutually accepted because upon entry into office, there were impending hurdles that Larry needed to accomplish right away.
When we sat down to chat with him, we asked what the 10 year overview looked like from being on the board, what were some of the biggest challenges, and what his proudest accomplishments were. Lastly, we asked what he’d tell anyone thinking about applying for the independent personal position on the board.
Diving in, relocation was a hot topic for many years. There were numerous questions and much time taken to visit potential sites, run cost analysis, collect and review economic impact and land studies, hold meetings, and determine budgets. As the airport stands today — and has for its entirety — the city of Hailey and Blaine county share ownership and expenses. When the discussion of location came into play, that meant they had to consider the county taking on full financial responsibility. Larry noted that once a site was selected and airport authority approved move, an environmental study changed the entire plan. The location in mind had far too high of a sage grouse population — unfortunately, it would be decimated if the airport moved to that location. But as they went back to the drawing board, the recession hit, and the numbers for building increased.
While the consideration of relocation was in the air, Larry spent time traveling to other remote or mountain town airports and seeing and understanding their challenges. These travels were simply to access and compare feasibility for FMA.
Once it was determined that the airpot would stay, it was time to dive in and make drastic improvements. If they weren’t going to create a new airport, then they needed to make the current airport as efficient as possible. You’ll notice those improvements still continuing today — I.e. TSA PreCheck.
During his time on the FMAA board, we discussed Larry’s biggest accomplishments. As noted above, his approach to problem-solving allowed many to dig deep into the situation, determining what would be best for Friedman. He would dissect the issue into pieces, examine the solutions, and figure out alternatives to putting the pieces back together. Larry always pushed the status quo.
All the while, Larry’s approach toward public process was much different than others — he was all for transparency and an open government, wanting the Valley to know what he was working on. Larry was very open to public discussion and community engagement. He wanted his community to feel that they could approach him with issues and furthermore, these would be addressed.
Although his time on the board wasn’t all glamour, and the challenges were there, Larry agreed that it was a true pleasure to work with the entire airport staff. He enjoyed learning more about aviation, the operations behind it, and how the airport brings the local community together. Larry also noted Roberta, who retired last month, was of great help to him — a guide, if you will. Lastly, while involved in a dual role, as both a board member and county commissioner, it was important to be visible to the public no matter the issue — in and out of the airport.
With their being an independent position available on the board currently, we asked Larry advice for anyone considering that role. He simply said, know aviation and know our airport.
A fun fact that you may not know about Larry, he comes from a background in journalism.
Lastly, Larry notes: “It’s really an honor to be involved [with the airport] on all levels.”
While we’re going to miss Larry greatly as a board member, we know his contributions aren’t over. He’s very passionate about the success of this airport. This goes without saying, but it’s been an honor to work with him as much as we have.