County Search and Rescue makes case for new building at south airport

Barbara Anne Greene

Sheriff Ken Blackburn, Lieutenant Mark Raymond and Search & Rescue captains Jeff Schmidt and Wes Mangus met with the Big Horn County commissioners on December 6.
They were there to discuss their support for a new S&R building at the South Big Horn County Airport. Schmidt told the commissioners they are a lot busier. This county is the third or fourth busiest in the state and has been for a few years. He doesn’t see it slowing down. He cited some examples of crowded trails on the Big Horn Mountains. Schmidt continued that it is likely many of the future calls will include response from both the south- and north-end S&R teams.
“To keep up with all the training, we feel like a building at the airport would give us a facility, as a whole team, like north and south could get together and train,” Schmidt said. He added they can train outside together, but there is no indoor classroom that would allow for that.
Another reason to have a facility there, according to Schmidt, is that it is centrally located. It would take 20 minutes for both Mangus and Schmidt to get to the south airport.
“Greybull is as central as we can get. Plus, with all the aircraft-based stuff we are doing anymore, the airport makes a lot of sense,” Schmidt said.
Commissioner Dave Neves asked how many times the S&R team uses the aircraft for the missions. Schmidt said often, as it helps get a team to the location much quicker. Raymond added, “If we are looking at a centralized location, we aren’t just looking at a Search and Rescue building, we are looking at something that can be used by multiple agencies. For multiple different scenarios, aircraft storage and usage to piggyback off that is just one aspect of it. We’ve got a whole bunch of other uses for the facility.”
He added that building is big enough to house aircraft will allow for many different training opportunities.
Mangus added that the facility would house the command center, as well. This could open federal money opportunities for an airport improvement program. It could be a place to house people during a disaster or a homeland security crisis.
He continued there is potential growth for the county economically as the facility, if it had a kitchen, could be used for people that want to stop over. Schmidt suggested that even bunkers could be added for pilots that might get weathered in. A key card access could be used. The bunkers could also be used for the S&R teams on an extended rescue.
Mangus added that the county already owns the property, and it could generate some income for the county, housing for S&R and a way for the south and north teams to “mash together a little better.”
Regional trainings could be hosted there, as well. The county wouldn’t have to pay for S&R travel and cost of training. Instead, money would be coming in.
Commission chair Bruce Jolley asked if there had been any discussion with the county’s airport board. Schmidt said he had talked to airport manager Paul Thur but had not been to an airport board meeting.
“There will be some financial outlay, but the reality of this is we are going to look at a project with a one-time use of money,” Schmidt said. “Let’s look at a project that will benefit everybody in the entire county. It may or may not work. These guys have done a lot of groundwork. If we have a situation that we could create a legacy for wise use of money vs. foolish use of money, this would be something to seriously look at.”
Both Jolley and commissioner Deb Craft recommended that they meet with the airport board. Craft had an airport board meeting later in the day. She took pictures of the proposed layout and said she would share at that meeting.
Jolley asked if there would be additional cost to the county above the money already allocated for S&R. He was told not at this point.
Blackburn added that the county’s emergency management coordinator, LaRae Dobbs, is in support.
Schmidt noted that they have explored getting a grant and have located grant writers who would write the grants for free. The value of the land could be used for the in-kind match portion of some grants.
The commissioners were all OK with S&R moving forward in exploring the grant opportunities. S&R will also get on the agenda for the airport board.
In Road and Bridge news:
• A request for proposal will be advertised for a project on Road 16/Crooked Creek.
• The commission and deputy county attorney discussed the next steps for a request to abandon a county road.
In other commission news:
• The commission filled open fair board positions.  
• The commission filled open airport board positions.
• The commission filled an open board position for P&Z.
• CPA James Reilly presented the annual audit report. The county is in good standing.
• County fire warden Brent Godfrey appeared to discuss doing away with the Big Horn County Firefighters group, which is basically defunct. He requested that the funds that used to run through the group from other agencies (federal or state) for major fires be run through the county. The commission requested a formal letter from the board.
• Fair manager Cash Duncan gave a fairgrounds/fair update.