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A helicopter used by the Forest Service to fight forest fires sits at the Challis Airport. Planned improvements at the airport could mean more firefighting equipment could be based in Challis.

Improvements at the Challis airport continue to be discussed by city officials and project engineers.

Challis Mayor Mike Barrett and the city's airport consultant, Kent Atkin, met with Roxanne Trotta, an engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration in late September to discuss the timeline for the work. The three agreed the best time to begin construction is in April 2020, with a goal of wrapping up the work by July.

Challis received two grants this year to improve its airport. The money will be used to rebuild and repave the runway and taxiway and to improve lighting systems. New runway lights will be installed and the precision approach path indicator lights will be updated.

A big concern at the airport, according to Barrett and Atkin, is wildlife getting on the runway.

"We have a tremendous wildlife problem," said Barrett. "If we're going to build a $4 million airport we have to make sure pilots don't crash into elk."

The solution that came out of the meeting is to extend the fence on the northwest side of the airport to encompass the extended runway. Trotta said she will do a wildlife assessment related to the fence.

Barrett and Atkin stressed the importance of the airport to Challis and the benefits that improvements could bring.

"Go and talk to cities that don't have a local airport," Atkin said. "It's staggering what an airport brings a community."

Barrett said given the aging population in Challis there has been an increase in air ambulance flights to Challis. A larger airport would allow more people to be flown to hospitals, he said.

The planned improvements will allow the airport to apply for a different classification with the Forest Service that could mean more Forest Service firefighting equipment could be staged in Challis. Barrett said that means increased revenue to the city.

Airport improvements could allow more hangars to be built on property rented from the city. This would add recreational value to the airport, said Barrett, because there has been interest from people looking to access the backcountry around Challis.

The airport board will meet with City Council members to discuss the project at 1 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 10, at City Hall.