The airport (issue) that won’t go away
An article in the Post Independent a few months ago reported that the runway at the Glenwood Springs Airport will need to be rebuilt in five to seven years at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million. There is concurrently a plan for a future southerly extension of Midland Avenue, with a connection across the Roaring Fork River to Highway 82 in the vicinity of Red Canyon Road.
This presents a problem, which is that the airport runway is in the way of the most direct route for the Midland Avenue connection to Highway 82. There are three ways to resolve this conflict. One is to construct a tunnel under the runway, but most everyone agrees that this is impractical because of the very high cost. A second is to route the Midland Avenue-Highway 82 connection around the south end of the runway. And the third is to close the airport and remove the runway.The direct connection, which would be in conflict with the runway, is proposed to follow a route along the property line between Holy Cross Energy and the adjoining private property to the south, to meet Highway 82 at the Red Canyon Road intersection. As I understand it, both property owners have indicated general agreement with this route.However, if the Midland Avenue-Highway 82 connection has to be routed around the south end of the airport, its length would be increased by close to 1,000 feet and it would occupy a major piece of the property south of Holy Cross Energy, which would be totally unacceptable to the owner of that property, and would invite a long, bitter, and costly condemnation battle.
The alternative is to abandon the airport, which is on property owned by the city of Glenwood Springs. The city needs to compare the benefit to the city of continuing the operation of the airport with the other potential uses of the approximately 33 acres occupied by the airport, which has a market value on the order of $10,000,000. Freeing up this land for other uses would allow the Midland Avenue-Highway 82 connection to be constructed along the most direct and least-costly route, and would leave about 30 acres of land available for affordable housing for city and school district employees, for which there is such a critical need.On the other side of the ledger, what is the value of the airport to the city of Glenwood Springs? Although the Garfield County Airport, located within 20 miles of Glenwood Springs, is a much larger and vastly safer facility, the Glenwood Springs Airport is, of course, more convenient for those living in and around Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. There are about 60 planes based at the Glenwood Springs Airport, but only about one-third of them belong to residents of the city. It is true that financially the airport is self-supporting, but the financial return to the city is minuscule for a $10 million asset.But airport interests have always been well-represented on the Glenwood Springs City Council. It was the city council that, in 2001, approved a 20-year contract permitting construction of the infamous hangers at the airport, binding the city, if it were to close the airport, to either buy the hangers at fair market value, or to allow the hangers to remain, and rezone the area to industrial use. Does this seem like a conflict of interest? The city attorney advised council at the time, “The best way to take care of this without much financial exposure to the city would be to close the airport as soon as possible.” But that did not happen.
In 1997, Glenwood Springs residents voted nearly three to one against closing the airport. However, the vote was not so much for the airport as it was against the fear of development in that part of town if the airport was abandoned. But in 2003, five members of a council-appointed Airport Ad-Hoc Committee (who had no personal interest in the airport) concluded that “the ‘highest and best use’ for the airport property from a community use perspective is not as an airport,” and recommended that the airport be closed and the property be made available for public uses and affordable housing.It is time for the city to revisit the airport issue and decide what is truly in its best long-term interests.Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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