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County airport plans upgrade

Garfield County’s airport is slated for a major facelift. Thanks to funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, the safety area around the airport’s runway will be extended on either side, said airport manager Brian Condie, and the runway itself will be realigned.

Two potential pitfalls have to be cleared, however. According to Condie, major environmental impact could stop the project, as could the FAA’s inability to come forth with the money if it’s not appropriated by Congress.

“This is a priority project for the FAA and county, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” he said.



The upgrade was mandated by the FAA in response to growth in

business jets at the airport, Condie said. Business jets are attracted to the airport when they cannot land at either Aspen or Eagle airports during bad weather.



Although the runway can handle everything from 737s to Gulfstream jets, the FAA found the safety area did not meet its standards.

The safety area is proposed to be increased from 300 to 500 feet on either side of the centerline of the runway, and 1,000 feet added at either end of the mesa where the airport is located, Condie said, “so if the wind blows a plane off the runway” it has a smooth grassy verge to land on.

“It makes it safer for pilots and passengers. … If an aircraft left the runway it would be able to operate safely without damage to the aircraft.”

Fill to increase the safety area at either side of the mesa is expected to be about 100 feet deep and about 500 feet wide, Condie said.

While the runway will not be lengthened, it will be realigned three to four degrees so flights come in and go out over Interstate 70 rather than over residential areas. The realignment is for safety, not specifically to avoid residential areas. “It just turned out that way,” Condie said.

An environmental assessment will be conducted to determine how much impact to the area will be created by the project. If significant impacts are identified, the FAA will require a full-blown environmental impact statement, Condie said, which will take two to three years.

The plan calls for relocating portions of County Road 352 (West Mamm Creek Road) and part of Dry Creek, as well as some power and sewer lines. The creek relocation will require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and involve re-creation of the wetlands that will be destroyed in the process.

If the environmental assessment is sufficient, engineering on the project will begin at the end of 2007, Condie said. Project construction is slated for 2008 and 2009.

The FAA is providing 95 percent of the $22 million upgrade as long as the funding is appropriated. Garfield County is responsible for the remainder.

Condie sees more growth in the airport’s future. He said fuel sales have increased by “double digits” in the last four years. The current airport management service is planning to build a terminal for business jet passengers and crews that will rival the corporate aircraft terminal at Eagle airport. In addition, eight limousine companies service the Garfield airport.

While business will continue to increase, it is unlikely the airport will see commercial service any time soon.

“People ask that all the time,” Condie said.

Airlines look for a two and a half hour threshold of travel to an airport before building a new terminal and upgrading a facility like Garfield County Airport, Condie said. Glenwood Springs is only one and a half hours from Grand Junction, the closest commercial service. An airline would not consider investing the money it would take to upgrade the county airport to commercial standards. Nor would the county consider such a move, he said.

“With the cost of running an airline now, we won’t see it,” Condie said. “It’s not our market.”


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