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Airport changes at issue

Jennifer DavorenAspen Times Staff Writer

Those charged with crafting a master plan for the Pitkin County Airport should carefully weigh public opinion before making any major decisions, County Commissioner Shellie Roy said Monday.If improvements proposed for the airport – including a 1,000-foot extension of the runway and expansion of the existing terminal building – are approved without community input, the county could have another Entrance to Aspen-type debate on its hands, she said.”If this is not decided in a way that makes the neighbors feel they were heard, we will get sunk,” Roy predicted yesterday during a meeting of the advisory committee that is formulating the master plan.A conceptual version of the plan is due before the commissioners in October. The plan will include the committee’s recommendations on three major renovation issues: terminal improvements, the proposed runway extension and development plans for the airport’s west side.Terminal improvements will be some of the most important elements of the master plan, said Mark McFarland, a representative of the Tulsa-based consulting group Barnard Dunkelberg & Co.”Everybody realizes that there will need to be passenger terminal improvements in the future,” he told the advisory committee yesterday. “The task now is to understand what the short-term improvements are, and what the long-term improvements might be.”These renovations should probably include room for a larger departure lounge and improved airline offices, McFarland said. Evolving screening techniques for airport security, including the installation of large machines for use by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, have also created the need for bigger terminals.In short, the airport must create “the most flexible space possible to deal with future changes in the airline industry,” McFarland said.Barnard Dunkelberg & Co. officials have proposed six options for terminal improvement, which the advisory committee will continue to study in the coming weeks. One option proposes the construction of a new hallway, linking the ticketing and baggage claim areas.”It would allow us to expand the hold room into the public seating area,” said the firm’s Mike Doucette.A second option proposes the addition of a second level to the existing terminal building, which also will create a larger holding area for passengers.”That issue needs to be addressed,” Doucette said, noting the airport would see “significant land savings by going to that type of option.”Another possibility for an improved terminal includes the construction of an estimated 12,000-square-foot companion facility between the existing terminal and the runway.”It certainly does look at the long-term direction of the airport,” Doucette said.One element missing from the advisory committee process, consultants admitted, is financial information. Barnard Dunkelberg & Co. officials will not have final numbers until the planning process begins later this fall, said Suzanne Konchan, former Pitkin County manager and current Barnard facilitator.Then, she said, county budgets and federal monies – grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, for example – will be taken into consideration. “We’re not going to suggest something that’s not feasible from a financial standpoint,” McFarland agreed.The advisory committee consists of nearly 30 people, including members of the business community and concerned citizens living near the airport.The idea of airport expansion is, of course, enormously popular among the committee’s merchant representatives – Hana Pevny, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, called for anything that would make the airport appealing to airlines looking to set up shop in Aspen.Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass, agreed the consensus among the local tourist industry is that the airport’s “existing facilities are overstressed.”But some citizens question the proposed improvements. Woody Creek resident Phil Holstein attended Monday’s meeting, worried that business concerns would outweigh local opposition.Though Aspen needs tourist dollars, it also need to retain its “small town” feel, he said.”I’m still concerned with trying to keep the airport and the facilities there consistent with the community,” Holstein said.Holstein was especially concerned with a larger holding room for passengers, which creates the need for a larger terminal on airport property. Aspen’s relatively small flight schedule means that the local holding room is rarely full, he said.”It’s very elegant, and gives everybody a lot of elbow room, but it’s hardly necessary for an airport like Aspen’s,” Holstein said.Jackie Francis, a representative of the neighboring North 40 neighborhood, was worried about additional noise at the airport, both from construction and a larger runway. The airport’s existing terminal building blocks a lot of noise from departing jets, Francis said, and changes to the configuration of buildings could create a hazard.”That’s going to be too loud for us,” she said.The advisory committee plans to meet again in late October or early November. At that time, Barnard Dunkelberg and Co. expects to have a draft report ready for further review by the committee, as well as consultant recommendations.Hopefully, the consulting group will have condensed its large notebook of materials into a more reader-friendly format, advisory committee members remarked.”The populace is not going to digest a 4-inch binder,” said one Woody Creek resident.[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]


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