Aspen airport outreach process begins in earnest |

Aspen airport outreach process begins in earnest

A Boeing 737 airplane landed at the Aspen airport on Thursday, marking the first time in the airfield's history a plane that large landed there. The two airport ground employees in front of the plane provide an idea of its large size.
Courtesy Pitkin County

Pitkin County commissioners took the first concrete steps Tuesday in a yearlong community outreach process that will determine the future of Aspen’s airport.

In a two-hour discussion, commissioners hammered out the basic structure of three subcommittees that will look at various aspects of the project, and a fourth overall “visioning committee” that will put together recommendations from those groups and present them to the county board.

“It’s a community airport and it’s up to the community to help us determine the future,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

The county has received permission from the federal government through an approved environmental assessment to revamp both the runway and the aging terminal.

Proposed plans for the airport include relocating and widening the runway to accommodate a projected new class of regional jets that are quieter and more fuel efficient but have larger wingspans than the airport can now accommodate. Officials also have presented plans for a new 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot modern terminal to replace the current, somewhat ramshackle 47,000-square-foot building.

Together, those two projects are currently estimated to cost between $350 million and $400 million.

However, no decision on either of the two projects has yet been made.

Though federal officials are wondering what Aspen is waiting for, the county board and airport officials want to make certain the community’s wishes for the airport’s future are taken into account through a robust public process before any decisions are made, said John Kinney, airport director.

And that’s where the airport community committees will come in.

The airport and county advertised for community volunteers for the four committees in October and received 116 applications, Kinney said. County staff initially recommended having 20 to 25 people on the main committee and 10 to 15 people on each of the three subcommittees.

However, that would mean culling the number of applications and leaving out some people who want to participate in the process, said Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager. County staff was, in the end, not comfortable with leaving people out, so they recommended increasing the size of the committees.

Commissioners were not happy excluding from the process people who want to take part, though they also acknowledged that larger-sized committees cannot get as much done and likely won’t be able to study issues in as much depth as smaller-sized committees.

The idea of the smaller committees ended up winning out, though commissioners also decided not leave anyone out of the process, either. That will mean shuttling those who are not chosen for one of the committees to a fourth subcommittee that will act as a focus group for the other committees should they want to test out ideas before presenting them to the general public.

In order to choose who will be on each committee, commissioners will each rank their choices and county staff will assemble the committee assignments based on those rankings, Peacock said.

The ideas proposed by the various committees will be presented to the public over the next year, then provided to commissioners by the end of the year. The committees will meet approximately every other month, Kinney said.

Commissioners also decided to allow committee members to choose a chairperson and vice-chairperson during the first committee meetings. Board members debated whether to simply designate the leadership roles, though Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury’s suggestion of allowing the various committees to do so in an effort to get them more involved in the process won out.

The committees are likely to be named by early February.

The main group that will oversee the entire public outreach process will be the Airport Vision Committee. Under that will be a committee focused on the airport experience for customers, while another committee will deal with technical aspects of the project and another will focus on “community character.”

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