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Mulhall column: A gift horse’s mouth

Mitch Mullhall

In 1937, Mary Guadnola — a surname no doubt familiar to many long-time locals — notarized a deed by George Sumers conveying the 30-acre parcel we now know as “the airport” to the city of Glenwood Springs.

In 1946, George Sumers leased to the city lands adjacent to the airport. That lease articulates Mr. Sumers’ desire that Glenwood use the 1937 conveyance for “airport and flying business” purposes, and it cost Glenwood $1, “payable annually in advance.”

These and other documents, federal grants and at least one other lease establish the land’s historical use for fixed-wing aviation.



Fast forward to 2021, and here we are under the leadership of the latest City Council to minimize George Sumers’ generosity.

It’s true Glenwood’s airport is no Eagle County Regional or Sardy Field. Not even close.



The runway’s short, and, according to our mayor, it needs a new fuel system, ground lighting, tarmac sealant, hangars, weed management and fencing, just for starters — no doubt due to long-standing low priority.

To City Council, the airport’s a bit of a ball and chain. A financial burden. A money pit. Maybe it could even be said that as a transportation matter the airport eats up money that might be better spent commissioning another RFTA feasibility study.

Council did not draw this conclusion unopposed. Last May, Glenwood citizens filed a petition, and last July, they submitted it with signatures.

The city validated 521 petition signatures, more than enough, I’m told, to get the measure on the ballot, but despite petitioners’ good faith efforts to work with council on the measure, it never reached the ballot.

Maybe in what it calls “the failed petition drive,” council saw an attempt to protect the airport’s runway. It “failed” because council twice disqualified petition signatures, and I heard they took issue with implications of a coordinating conjunction.

In the end, council let the petitioner’s measure languish and wrote two ballot measures of their own, 2A and 2B, in what looked like an effort to control a narrative.

The difference between the petitioners’ ballot measure and defeated measure 2A shows council’s regard for the airport.

The petitioner’s measure obligated the city to operate the airport as it has since 1937 — until voters say otherwise. By contrast, 2A linked continued city operation of the airport to a tax increase.

In an October GSPI column, mayor Jonathan Godes made council’s view of the airport clear: “We need to understand [whether] the citizens value the runway portion of the airport when asked directly to fund it.”

That’s exactly what 2A did — it yoked the airport’s existence to a tax increase.

Sinister? Nah, probably not. Clever? No, not really.

A tax increase is one thing, but in that same column, Mayor Godes also linked the existence of the airport runway to the South Bridge: “if 2A [passes] … we reduce the funding gap and bring South Bridge closer to a reality.”

Even with a tax increase, the city would, according to the mayor, “reduce the funding gap” needed to build the South Bridge. What would it take to get them all the way there?

Bulldozing the south end of the runway, maybe.

Council should not infer from the defeat of 2A anything other than voter rejection of a tax increase. It is neither a mandate to do with the airport whatever council sees fit, nor permission to sacrifice the airport’s runway to make South Bridge a reality.

Perhaps a better way to determine voter regard for the airport would have been to put the petitioners’ question on the ballot, for the petitioners’ question was simple, honest and direct: Should the city “own, operate, and maintain its airport …” until city voters approve the sale or redevelopment of the property?

Instead, council once again treated the airport like something they got for free.

To council, the airport has little practical value, and that’s been the predominant view as long as I can remember.

Every so often, someone floats the idea of turning the airport into affordable housing or something equally grail-like, and council gets animated by the idea.

Yet, somehow, the airport has survived.

So far.

No, Glenwood governance has never revered its airport. That’s nothing new, and maybe that’s unlikely to change.

But disqualifying a citizen petition and forcing Glenwood voters into an electoral detonation of an 84-year-old gift?

That’s low-grade politics and needs to be shown the door.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.


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