Aspen airport hearings set for later this month | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airport hearings set for later this month

The nearly $100 million proposal to build a new terminal and runway at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport continues to make its way through local and federal bureaucracies.

Pitkin County commissioners heard Tuesday about the comments submitted by the public about the environmental assessment of the project during two recent open houses in Aspen and Snowmass Village and online. Public hearings on that environmental assessment will be held in front of the county board later this month.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration already has reviewed the assessment — minus the public comments — and may issue findings on it by January, said Kate Andrus, project manager for the public planning firm Mead and Hunt.

Mead and Hunt looked at 23 possible impacts of the new, larger terminal and the proposed relocation of the runway, including noise, air quality and water quality. The most significant environmental impact is that 1.5 acres of wetlands near Buttermilk must be relocated, including piping a portion of Owl Creek on the airport property.

The environmental study looked at the impacts of a new 140,000-square-foot terminal, though Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock has said the county won't build a structure that large.

Last fall, officials unveiled two possible designs for the new terminal, which would each be a minimum of 80,000 square feet. The current terminal is 47,000 square feet.

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In addition, officials have said the runway needs to be moved 80 feet to the west and be widened from 100 feet to 150 feet to accommodate a new class of regional jets with large wingspans.

The entire project is estimated to cost $96 million.

Public comments about the project indicated strong support for a 14-foot "noise wall" and for keeping the current curfew forbidding airplanes from landing between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., Andrus said. In addition, most people did not support the use of jet bridges to deplane passengers in order to preserve view planes, she said.

Several commenters also wondered why voters will not be queried about the airport expansion because they believed a larger terminal would affect Aspen's "small-town character," Andrus said.

Some people also suggested constructing the runway before the terminal, though preliminary plans call for the terminal to be built first, said Ryk Dunkelberg, Hunt and Mead vice president.

All who commented will receive responses, she said.

The runway portion of the project will likely be built with 90 percent federal funds and 10 percent local money, said Airport Director John Kinney. For the terminal, the best-case scenario is the federal government covers 50 percent of the costs, he said.

After the FAA issues its findings on the environmental assessment, airport officials will begin putting together consultant teams for the project and then apply for federal funds, Kinney said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com