Guest column: Glenwood Springs council is trading our airport for condos
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division, the Glenwood Springs airport injects $17 million annually into the economy of Glenwood Springs. The airport costs the City nothing. It pays for itself with fuel sales and user fees. The $17 million annual injection is free. Yet council is considering doing away with this $17 million annual injection by building a road across the airport that would close it. It would decrease the cost of the $56 million South Bridge Project by $6 million and shorten the runway by 43 feet. It could kill the airport.
How are South Bridge, the airport, and condos related? Keep reading.
South Bridge will link south Glenwood to Colorado Highway 82, alleviate traffic along Midland and Grand, and provide additional evacuation routes. It is a good project. The problem is the council is putting the bridge in the wrong place.
A 2013 Engineering Impact Study evaluated 32 locations for South Bridge. Council chose an option that requires crossing airport property. To keep the airport, they included a short $6 million cut and cover tunnel under the runway as part of the project. Thirty options required no such tunnel.
In a rapture of fiscal responsibility, council is considering eliminating the tunnel and putting the road over the runway. This destroys the airport. It’s a big valley. There is room for South Bridge and the airport. Keep the tunnel, pick another option, or move the bridge approach south around the runway. One overlooked option in the study does exactly that.
Council sometimes undervalues economic analysis, but this is simple. Not one member can explain how saving $6 million once justifies losing $17 million annually. Not one.
Unless you consider that a closed airport frees up a large piece of land for housing. Councilors Shelly Kaup, Paula Stepp, Steve Davis, and Jonathan Godes all support housing and its attendant congestion, traffic, and impact on schools, police and fire departments. They are unmoved if the airport closes and their agendas move forward, even for $17 million annually.
Why would the council’s plan close the airport?
Council’s proposal moves the runway north into the overrun between the runway and the airport perimeter. The runway would be shortened by 43 feet. Council and staff are not familiar with airport design and did not consult with, or receive recommendation from, the Airport Commission for this proposal. They need to listen to their boards and commissions. The overrun is necessary for safety. Planes would back up to the fence to take off. The glide path would lower over homes near the soccer field.
How will residents and the Federal Aviation Administration respond? Probably not well. They will never sacrifice the overrun. Which then leaves a runway shortened to the point that no one other than a bush pilot could land on it. Hope of business aircraft would vanish. Fuel sales would dry up, the airport would not self-support and would require funding from the City. A slow death and voila, all that land is up for grabs – and condos. Council would shed no tear. They’ll never admit it, but for some this is their dream scenario.
What could the airport be instead?
It could be a crown jewel, an even larger stimulus for the City. When you land here now, parking is sketchy, there is little infrastructure, one loaner car, and fuel. It’s not terribly inviting. People fly in, fill up, and leave. But what if we fixed it up? What if people flew in and stayed, rented cars, dined, rafted, hit the pools and Adventure Park? Not large aircraft, but well-heeled single engine pilots looking for a weekend getaway. The Aspen airport doesn’t market to this demographic. What if we welcomed them here? There are tens of thousands of such pilots. The current $17 million influx could skyrocket. The airport would have to be improved. Is that possible?
Sure. We could apply for federal National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems airport funding. Staff has never done this. They have assumed it was unavailable. Come on, where’s the “can do” spirit? Funding might be hard to get but I have talked to CDOT and the FAA. It’s complicated but seems possible. Council has never supported the airport enough to even try. Worse, Classic Air Medical offered to build a $1 million hanger, parking, pilot lounge and lobby at their expense, free to the City. But council won’t give them the lease. Why? Condos.
If you want more traffic, crowded schools, overworked fire and police, if you want Glenwood to become a sprawling mess, lose its charm, lose $17 million annually, and lose a fire base to defend our town, all you have to do is…nothing.
If you don’t want this, call council members and let them know. Do it before Thursday. That’s when they vote.
Gary Vick is a resident of Glenwood Springs.
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