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Aspen airport project to finally move forward

Pitkin County commissioners OK project’s principles, design elements; new airfield at least a decade away

Airplanes wait to take off on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County officials can to take the next step toward developing a new airport for Aspen thanks to a final vote by county commissioners Wednesday that capped hours and hours of debate about the future of the facility.

“It’s been a long haul to get here,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “It will be a longer haul to bring (a new airport) to the future.”

Rich Englehart, assistant county manager and acting airport director, estimated it will likely be 10 to 12 years before a new airport comes to fruition.



In the meantime, Wednesday’s approval of 15 principles and design elements that will define the new airport and airfield will nudge the project forward after more than three years of fact-gathering, community debate and COVID-19 related delays.

“This provides a path forward,” said Commissioner George Newman, noting that the document approved Wednesday provides for a “safer, greener, quieter airport.”



Englehart and other county officials can now take the plan — which differs from one approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in July 2018 — to the FAA and begin negotiations.

Under the plan approved by the FAA, the runway would have moved 80 feet west and been widened 50 feet. Under the new plan, the runway is only thing that remains in the same place.

Everything else — the location of the terminal, the tower, the taxiway, ramp parking spaces for airplanes — will move to a slightly different or completely different location.

The wider runway is the main sticking point for some commissioners. The move is required by the FAA and defying it means sacrificing millions of dollars in federal grants to re-build the airfield.

However, allowing it clears the way for planes with wingspans of up to 118 feet to land in Aspen, conjuring a 737-sized boogeyman for many community residents.

To try to address the dilemma, commissioners approved language in the 15 principles and guidelines stating that a new airport layout plan won’t be approved by the county board unless cleaner, quieter planes are guaranteed to service the facility.

 


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