Pitkin County takes pause in airport planning
Ryan Summerlin December 13, 2012
ASPEN – A week after Pitkin County commissioners approved an updated master plan for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, they agreed Tuesday to catch their breath before launching into the next step toward future development there.
Commissioners rejected a proposed late addition to the airport’s 2013 budget – $250,000 for work on design guidelines and a transit analysis – preferring instead to consider the expenditure early next year when more information about the scope of the proposed work is available.
The proposed budget allocation was a “place holder” – an actual cost estimate for the work hasn’t been calculated, said Brian Grefe, assistant director of aviation at the airport.
“We haven’t done a thorough analysis of what it will cost,” he said.
Airport expenditures come from grants and airport revenues, not the county’s taxpayer-supported general fund.
The design guidelines will establish parameters for the design of future facilities at the airport, including a new terminal and new fixed-base operation on the west side, said Jon Peacock, county manager. The transit study will explore potential ways to make public transportation more attractive to airport users – a baggage-handling system that relieves travelers of the need to schlepp their luggage on a bus, for example.
Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested that commissioners take up the expenditure as a supplemental appropriation in January, after letting “the dust settle a little bit” on the master plan approval.
“I don’t want this to be, or perceived to be, hurried,” she said.
In addition, Richards suggested that the budget allocation would telegraph what the county is willing to spend on consultants.
“I agree. Let the dust settle as opposed to, last week we supported a master plan, this week we’re starting to spend money on it,” said Commissioner Rob Ittner.
The allocation would have been included in the airport’s 2013 budget from the start, but the budget review moved forward before the master plan was adopted, Peacock said. Final budget approval is scheduled for Wednesday.
Because the design guidelines will apply to the development of a new fixed-base operation, and because the county may see applications for such a development sooner rather than later, the expenditure is likely to come back before commissioners quickly in 2013, Peacock said.
The guidelines need to be drafted and adopted so the county can respond to interest from fixed-base operators that have been waiting for the master-plan process to finish.
“What we’ve been telling people is we’re not accepting proposals until the process is complete,” Peacock said. “I think our concern was staying ahead of the curve should someone be interested in doing business.”
Fixed-base operations sell fuel and provide other services to aircraft. Interest in establishing a second such operation to compete with the existing one at the airport drove the need for the master-plan update.
“I want us to run on our schedule, not on the schedule of potential bidders,” Richards said.
“We, the county, the commissioners, are driving this bus,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield agreed. “We’re not going to be ready until we say we’re ready.”