New Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel admits to being a novice to the city’s age-old debate over the future of the municipal airport.He could become an expert in a hurry if the recent crash of a plane in a nearby residential area rekindles passions about the airport’s future.”It will be interesting, I think, for all of us to see what is the community’s reaction to this all,” Hecksel said.He’s been contacted by at least one resident concerned about the airport’s location since Saturday’s crash, in which a plane struck two townhomes and landed between them. The pilot walked away from the crash with minor injuries, and no one was hurt in the townhomes.Hecksel also has talked to a few council members about the crash, but the discussion focused more on the crash itself than on any implications it would have for the airport’s future.Airport manager Dick Weinberg said he’s sure the crash will precipitate renewed discussion about the airport.”We’ve been through that before. I haven’t heard anything yet. We’ll see what happens.””This is an unfortunate thing; it’s an accident,” he added.Mandy Gauldin, who lives in the Park East subdivision near the airport, called it a miracle that no one was seriously hurt, and said the accident very well could have had far worse consequences.”That plane could have just as easily gone into the school,” Gauldin said. “We should take it as a warning.”Gauldin has a son who attends Sopris Elementary School, which is near the airport. The school has about 450 students, and often is busy in nonschool hours with school functions and church groups, she said. Gauldin was at the school the morning of the crash.”At the school, everyone was just in shock on Saturday because we were so close to it and we knew the families affected,” she said.As the day wore on, she said, the shock gave way to disbelief. Planes continued to land and take off, and residents wondered how an airport could be so close to homes and a school.Gauldin said she would be surprised if residents didn’t renew pressure on the city to consider closing the airport.City voters resoundingly voted in favor of keeping the airport open in 1997. City Council members last year found themselves split on the issue, and considered putting the matter to voters again, but it never went to a public vote.Hecksel said the airport wasn’t even brought up as a discussion item when he was briefed before starting the job several weeks ago.”It’s not an issue anybody is discussing. It’s just not even on the table,” he said.But the issue continues to loom in the background, not only because of the crash but because of continuing talk about building a bridge over the Roaring Fork River south of Glenwood Springs, and a new road connecting it to Midland Avenue and Four Mile Road. Some proponents say the road ideally would cross the land the airport currently uses.Hecksel said a specific location for the road and bridge have yet to be determined.”Obviously those things are going to have to be dealt with,” he said.Weinberg sat on a committee that considered locations for the bridge and road, and the airport’s future. Its members were unable to reach a consensus.Weinberg said one proposal for the new road would have cut the runway in half.”Whether the airport remains or goes, why dismember a property with a road right through the middle of it? It doesn’t make sense whether it’s used for an airport or anything else.”He said a lot of people want to run the road through the airport “just to put a spike through the airport’s heart.”Over the years, some have called for affordable housing or Glenwood’s new high school to be built at the site. The Roaring Fork Re-1 School District has since proceeded with plans to rebuild its high school at its current location; a bond issue on this fall’s ballot would fund that and other district projects.Gauldin said she would hate to see that bond issue fail, but added that she considers the airport a “viable location” for the high school. Some of the biggest opposition to the bond issue has come from businesses that would have to move or shut down if the high school is rebuilt on its current site.If the city gets funding for the south bridge and road, the airport issue will come up again, Weinberg said.The airport dates back to the 1930s. Concerns have grown in recent decades as development has increased around it.Although airport proponents can point out that the airport was there first, Weinberg said that doesn’t resolve problems or feelings about the facility.”I can understand how people are concerned,” he said.But he said accidents are infrequent. Also, most of the airplane traffic lands and takes off from the southeast, in order to avoid flying over the more developed land to the north, Weinberg said.Gauldin, a two-and-a-half-year resident of Park East, said the fact that the city decided to allow development around the airport points to the shortage of land in Glenwood Springs.”They were there first, but that doesn’t make it any safer,” she said.She said her brother-in-law is a pilot in Missouri, and she understands the importance of small airports. But in the case of Glenwood’s airport, “I think they’re risking the safety of families and kids, and the risks outweigh the benefits,” she said.Whatever the airport’s future, Weinberg is just glad that no one was seriously injured Saturday.”We were very lucky, and hopefully it won’t happen again for many, many years in the future,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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