Aspen airport lines up for FAA grant funds
August 23, 2011
ASPEN – Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is positioning itself to receive federal dollars for several planned but unbuilt projects just in case the money becomes available in the next few weeks.
County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to approve an emergency resolution that would allow it to accept Airport Improvement Program grant funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has more than $2 million to allocate to projects before Sept. 16. That’s when a short-term reauthorization of funding to support FAA operations expires.
A congressional impasse over funding of the FAA shut the agency down on July 23; on Aug. 6, Congress passed a short-term reauthorization to keep the agency running into mid-September, putting the agency on a tight schedule to obligate the remaining grant funds.
The chances of the Aspen airport receiving any of the available funding is slight, according to Jim Elwood, director of aviation, but the anticipated action by commissioners will put the facility in a position to receive money, should it become available.
“This is very much a long shot, but we feel like we’ve got projects that are very valid,” Elwood said. “We could make use of the money very quickly.”
The recent FAA shutdown interrupted projects at other airports, though the funding for the Aspen airport’s $15.4 million runway extension, now under construction, had already been secured. Elsewhere, airports that had been anticipating FAA funding may no longer be in a position to use the money immediately as a result of the two-week delay during the FAA shutdown, Elwood said.
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Three planned projects at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, dropped because of a prior lack of federal funding, would require minimal additional design work and could be built in 2012, he said.
The projects, in total, would cost $5.2 million, of which the FAA would fund up to 95 percent, or $4.9 million. The county’s share – an estimated $260,868 – would come from the airport’s reserves, which currently stand at more than $11.5 million.
The projects include construction of a connector between the runway and the main taxi way that parallels the runway on the east side. It was removed in 2005 during an earlier project, but wasn’t reinstalled because of federal funding limitations. Air-traffic controllers and pilots have advocated reinstalling the connector at that location since then, Elwood said.
Seven connector taxi ways currently exist between the runway and main taxi way; the runway extension project will add two more. The connector lost (it would be the 10th) could be reinstalled for an estimated cost of $941,731.
A $1.6 million subsurface drainage project to the west of the runway could also be pursued with FAA funding, according to Elwood. It was to be part of a 2007 runway rehabilitation project, but lacked FAA funding.
The airport spends more than $25,000 annually to repair eroded areas on the west side, created by runoff and heavy rain, he said. A July 18 downpour, which also caused flooding in the airport terminal, washed away about $5,000 worth of topsoil on the west side of the airport.
A third project, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million, would relocate aircraft deicing operations and relieve a point of congestion during the winter months, according to Elwood. The improvement would also eliminate the tracking of deicing fluid into the terminal and onto aircraft.
Should the local airport receive funding for any of the projects, the work would still require approvals, including the go-ahead from county commissioners.