Commissioners to talk about Aspen’s airport this month
This month is airport month for the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.
Board members have scheduled three meetings in August to talk about the future of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, two of which will allow the public to comment on what should be done and the recommendations presented by a committee that studied the facility for about 15 months.
That Vision Committee — headed by former Aspen Mayor John Bennett — involved the efforts of scores of residents and four subcommittees who studied various aspects of the airport. The main committee finally finished the laborious process just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring.
The committee’s recommendations were finally presented to commissioners in April during a virtual work session, but because of the pandemic the process has stalled since then and the public has not had a chance to comment on those recommendations.
One of the main recommendations was to leave the runway where it is and widen it from 100 feet to 150 feet. Previous plans called for moving the runway 80 feet to the west and widening it, but the committee decided to move the taxiway instead to trim construction costs, time and environmental impacts.
That recommendation, however, presents new problems. A federal environmental assessment based on moving the runway took three years to complete. Former Aspen airport director John Kinney said earlier this month that moving the taxiway instead of the runway will likely trigger another federal environmental assessment.
County Manager Jon Peacock has said an entirely new assessment may not be necessary and that an amendment to the original could suffice. It is not yet clear what the federal government will require.
Other recommendations made by the community-based committee include building a new terminal between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet that would include seven “flexible” gates with open-air jetways, building the terminal as environmentally friendly as possible and improving transportation to and from the facility located just east of Aspen.
The first scheduled airport meeting Thursday will involve only commissioners, staff and the three co-chairs of the Vision Committee and will take place on Zoom. That meeting will help hone the presentation that will be provided to the public during the following two meetings, said Rich Englehart, assistant county manager.
That will be followed by a special meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute for people who do not want to or cannot comment on Zoom and prefer to comment in person, Englehart said. The Aug. 13 meeting, however, will be limited to just 50 people, including the five commissioners and county staff, he said.
Pitkin County’s current public health order allows a maximum group meeting size of 50 people and has been permitted by the county’s Public Health Department along with a COVID-19 safety plan. The sign-up will be first-come, first-served, Englehart said. However, because of the limited space, the county is asking that members of the Vision Committee and the four subcommittees refrain from registering for the in-person meeting. Members of those committees who still want to comment can sign up to speak at the final meeting.
The final airport meeting will take place at 4 p.m. on Aug. 17 by Zoom. Residents who did not attend the Doerr-Hosier meeting will be able to comment at that time.
Public comments can only be submitted once and will be limited to three minutes each. Members of the public should not sign up to speak at both meetings.
To register for the in-person Aug. 13 meeting or to sign up to speak at the Aug. 17 Zoom meeting, visit http://www.pitkincounty.com/signup.
Commissioners will not make any decisions about the facility at the end of that meeting, Englehart said. A final decision will be made after staff take into account public comments and develop a final airport plan.
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Mountain people are not inside people. So after six months of nights at home due to the pandemic, we could all use some new ideas for home entertainment so we don’t feel like we’ve seen it all.