By Cameron Rasmusson
A resolution to the longstanding legal battle between Bonner County and SilverWing is in sight with the beginning of a jury trial this week.
Jurors will face an up-to-five-day marathon in tackling the case, which carries about 10 years of baggage. According to First District Judge Rich Christensen, the aim is to complete the civil trial no later than Monday to accommodate jurors’ Thanksgiving plans, although proceedings may not require the full five days allotted.
The trial kicked off Wednesday with the jury selection, where the court and the opposing sides faced the challenge of finding jurors free of bias or preconceived opinions. Christensen read a long list of individuals who would likely factor into or testify in the trial, and the pool of potential jurors disclosed any existing relationships. Given the small Sandpoint community and the tendency for people to know their neighbors, Christensen emphasized that prospective jurors should only disqualify themselves if they genuinely felt they could not judge the case fairly.
There will be no shortage of information to parse through in the course of the trial. The conflict reaches back to an alleged through-the-fence agreement between Bonner County and SilverWing, a residential fly-in development of houses and hangars. In 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration said the through-the-fence agreement rendered Sandpoint Airport out of compliance, leaving the airport ineligible for federal funding.
SilverWing sued Bonner County, claiming it backtracked on the through-the-fence agreement, leading to serious financial damages. Company officials also said the county did not properly disclose plans to relocate a runway. The county has since counter-sued for breach of contract.