Glenwood Springs mayor column: 2A ballot measure will provide clarity on airport’s future
Glenwood Springs Mayor
A vote this fall for 2A is an opportunity for the community to provide clarity concerning the future of the runway at the Glenwood Springs Airport. It is important for people to know what they are voting for, and more importantly what they are not voting for.
A vote for 2A is 4 mills and costs a homeowner about $25 per $100,000 of assessed home value annually. This amount will be around four times that for commercial property owners.
It is very important to understand that there will be a helicopter operations center maintained in all scenarios and circumstances, regardless of the outcome of this vote. Any firefighting or medivac activities that take place at the Glenwood Springs Airport are conducted exclusively with helicopters. The large tankers and slurry bombers have to come from Colorado Springs or Grand Junction. Fixed-winged fire planes are just not able to utilize the GWS airport, and helicopters do not need a runway. We all live in Glenwood just like you, and I would never put my family or neighbors in jeopardy in the event of a wildfire or medical evacuation crisis.
Of the money raised, $5.5 million will go to tunneling under the runway so the fixed-winged small aircraft can continue to enjoy the landing strip. Several million more dollars need to go into the airport to make it safe, secure and functional. For example, the runway needs to have a new $300,000 fuel system, ground lighting, runway sealant, hangars, weed management, security/wildlife fencing and a laundry list of other deferred maintenance items that have accumulated over the years. There are currently serious safety code violations associated with the fueling systems, and the fire marshal has given the city 30 days to correct these threats that are adjacent to residential properties.
While some airport users feel that many of these upgrades are unnecessary, it is the responsibility of staff and City Council to ensure the safety, security and potential liability of all city assets is front and center. Private aviation is an inherently risky hobby, and it is our responsibility to minimize hazards and limit our legal liability exposure.
If 2A does not pass, then the future of the runway portion of the airport is less certain. We have been trying, with some small successes, to find grant funding for South Bridge. Just this week we were informed that our congressional earmark from Sen. John Hickenlooper of $1 million dollars was successful. Unfortunately, being a non-FAA commercial airport makes obtaining grant funding for the tunnel portion of the project impossible. So far, we have $25 million of a $56 million project committed. Being able to reduce the cost of the project by $5.5 million by not building a tunnel under the runway will be a significant cost savings. Conversely, if 2A is able to pass, then we will have the funding necessary for the tunnel, and the funding gap will be the same. In either scenario, we reduce the funding gap and bring South Bridge closer to a reality.
If 2A does not pass, council will be faced with needing to commit significant financial resources into upgrading the safety issues associated with the runway. Without the source of revenue that 2A would provide, these funds would have to come from the city’s general fund, which provides the budgets for departments like police, fire and streets. How does council cut budgets across the city when the voters have just told us they didn’t want new tax dollars spent on maintaining a runway? What if we spend several million dollars anyway, the infrastructure bills get passed, and we now have the federal funding to begin construction on South Bridge? Is this an acceptable “sunk cost” to the taxpaying citizens?
This is why council voted to put this question before voters this November. We need to understand if the citizens value the runway portion of the airport when asked directly to fund it. If not, it is disingenuous to say that closing down the runway prior to investing in these large capital expenses is not a strong possibility.
Passage of 2A ensures, for at least the next generation, the certainty and viability of the runway the small private aircraft owners have been requesting. It rectifies the numerous safety issues staff has identified and provides funding for the tunnel. Failure of 2A creates a significant financial burden for the rest of the city with no ready way to pay for the improvements. Failure of 2A could even mean the closure of the runway. Please vote wisely and give me a call if you have any questions: 970-379-4248.
Jonathan Godes is mayor of Glenwood Springs. He was first elected to Glenwood Spring City Council in 2017.
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