Commissions, council talk what’s next for South Bridge, Glenwood Springs Airport following elections
It might be time for the Glenwood Springs City Council and Airport Commission to “bury the hatchet,” said Joel Shute, an airport commission member.
During the council’s work session Thursday, council members met with airport commission members and discussed the mill levy ballot questions, plans for a new Jet A fuel tank, past disagreements between council and commission members, and what’s in store for the future.
While the closure of the airport, or reducing its use to a heliport, was not listed on an agenda available to the public, the potential for closure seemed to underline the uncertainty both the commission and council have of how to plan for the airport’s future.
Commission member Dave Merritt said he would like better communications with the council, and the ability for the commission to start working on a master plan, but he wasn’t sure how to do that when “a majority of council wants to shut the place down for good.”
“I don’t think there’s a majority on the council that want to shut down the airport,” Council member Shelley Kaup said. “But every time we try to have a conversation about it, it becomes hostile.”
When a study was conducted by a third party about the future of the airport, the airport users and commission contributed their input, but during conversations about the study, Kaup said it became difficult to move forward in any direction.
“It was time to have that conversation about it,” she said. “But when we tried to have that public meeting and have a conversation with the community, the room was packed with a very hostile airport crowd.”
The presence of the crowd shut down the conversation, Kaup said.
“It’s not 1955, it’s not even 1980,” she said. “If we’re going to have an airport, it should be a top-notch airport.”
Although airport users say the airport is self-funding, Kaup said the reality is the Jet A fuel tank is out of code, potentially unsafe, set on private property and stretching its hoses across city property to fuel aircraft on city property.
“This has always been run as an airport users club,” she said. “But the fact is the airport is city property and the liability is on the city.”
Kaup called for having an “honest conversation” with users and the community about what the future of the airport should look like.
Shute said he agreed with Kaup, admitting there might be mistrust from the airport users because of happenings in the past, but moving forward, he said he hoped the commission and the council could work together moving forward.
No action can be taken during a work session, but council members agreed the commission could start putting together an airport master plan to present to council for approval in the future.
Later Thursday during the council’s joint work session with the Garfield County Commission, Brian Condie, the Garfield County Airport director, told council he was in favor of keeping Glenwood Springs’ airport open.
“The Rifle airport will support whatever action you take,” Condie said. “Speaking for myself, I would like to see them stay.”
If closed or the runway were to be shortened, he said about 60 Glenwood Springs aircraft would be displaced. The county airport, however, primarily serves larger and faster aircraft, meaning it does not have the infrastructure for fielding and housing smaller aircraft.
Because the smaller aircraft land at slower speeds than the typical county airport user, he said about $2 million would be needed to make changes to accommodate the Glenwood Springs users.
“If something were going to happen to the Glenwood Springs airport, I am asking to receive as much notice as possible,” Condie said.
SUB Garfield County Commission talk South Bridge
Glenwood Springs City Engineer Terri Partch presented an update on the South Bridge project to both council members and commissioners.
The environmental analysis was completed in October, she said, and estimated costs for the project increased slightly from $57.6 million to $58.15 million.
The number of private parcels the city could need to acquire for the right of way also increased from 26 to 48, and the city might need until summer 2023 to secure those parcels, Partch said.
With project design reaching the 90% complete milestone earlier this year, Partch said the design could be finalized in the spring.
Funding for the bridge, however, is still lacking.
The city reserved $20 million in bonding capacity from the Acquisitions and Improvements Fund for South Bridge, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) authorized switching $4 million, which was earmarked for Destination 2040, to South Bridge right of way acquisition.
Another $1 million could be allocated for the project through Sen. John Hickenlooper’s office, Partch said.
Mayor Jonathan Godes noted South Bridge was partially on county land and would serve the entire county before asking commissioners to take on 50% of the project’s costs.
“That’s not going to happen,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said. “We’re not in a position to fund it.”
Jankovsky said he supported the project, despite some concerns raised by the environmental assessment, but the county’s coffers are running low after a significant dip in oil and gas property tax revenues.
Commissioner Mike Samson said he was willing to stand by the city’s search for funding elsewhere, expressing solidarity and support for the South Bridge project, but the county cannot afford any contribution to the project.
Commissioner John Martin, on the other hand, said he was vehemently opposed to South Bridge.
“You’re opening up Pandora’s box with this bridge,” Martin said. “You’re opening up 4 Mile and 3 Mile roads to tremendous pressure and development.”
By installing this bridge, Martin said the city will eventually remove the airport and south end storage areas, replacing them with numerous housing developments and causing the population to boom, which would increase pressure on services, roads and open space throughout the county.
“I’m not for that,” Martin said. “I’m for what it was originally, an emergency access.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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