Aspen airport gets OK to start next phase of expansion project
The next phase of Pitkin County’s plan to build a nearly $100 million new airport terminal and runway can begin.
That was the word Tuesday from Aspen airport Director John Kinney, who told Pitkin County commissioners the Federal Aviation Administration has approved an environmental assessment of the project.
“The FAA has finally given us the document we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
The agency found “no substantial impacts” to the environment if the county builds up to a 140,000 square-foot new terminal and relocates and widens the runway, Kinney said.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock has said the county won’t build a facility that large, though it will be a minimum of 80,000 square feet. The current, aging airport terminal is 47,000 square feet.
Kinney said Wednesday the only environmental mitigation necessary is the relocation of 1.5 acres of wetlands near the Buttermilk side of the airport. That area had been previously identified by a national consulting firm.
With the long-awaited environmental assessment approved, county officials can move on and begin a community dialogue and airport about what the new airport should look like and what kind of airplanes it should serve, with the aim of striking a balance between community character and airport needs, Kinney said.
“This is one of many steps yet to come,” he said. “The real next step is visionary.”
Breaking ground on the new runway could come in 2021, Kinney estimated, while groundbreaking for the new terminal might happen in 2022 or 2023.
Kinney unveiled four possible designs for the airport terminal in February 2015. Community residents then voted on their favorites and the top two moved forward. Those two designs were used in the environmental assessment process so federal officials could look at their impacts, Kinney said at the time.
“This is planning process, not a design process,” he said at the time.
Airport officials will post the FAA’s environmental assessment online and will make hard copies available at the county’s new building on Main Street, the airport itself and the Pitkin County Library, Kinney said.
The FAA mandates only a 15-day comment period for the environmental assessment, though commissioners decided Tuesday to extend that to 30 days and possibly 45 days if the public needs the extra time.
Those comments can be sent to Kandice Krull, FAA, Denver Airports District, 26805 68th Ave., Denver, CO 80249.
“This is really exciting,” Commissioner George Newman said Tuesday. “It’s been years in coming. It’s been a lot of work.”
Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper said she was happy the EA document was finally released.
“The public has been waiting for this,” she said. “We’ve all been waiting for this.”
Kinney has said the runway must be relocated 80 feet to the west and widened from 100 feet to 150 feet to accommodate a new crop of regional jets the airlines will soon begin using. Those jets are quieter and more fuel efficient, but have larger wingspans, mandating the new runway configuration.
The terminal should be replaced, he has said, because it is outdated in terms of passenger safety and baggage inspection standards, is not large enough and suffers from what Peacock has called “passenger experience issues.”
The airport project is expected to cost $96 million.
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.