To pay for new security, airport proposes major fee hike to park
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Aspen airport has spent nearly $100,000 on security improvements since Sept. 11, a report issued by an airport official states.
To help make up for that, rates for airport parking would more than double under a plan proposed to the Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday afternoon.
Airport Director Jim Elwood reported that his staff has responded to 42 security directives by the Federal Aviation Administration since the terrorist attacks. The airport has also had six on-site inspections and “completed a significant number of requests for supplemental information by FAA employees” to increase security at the airport, Elwood said.
Top security priorities have included upgrading security badges, providing extra security officers for both the airport terminal and areas designated for vehicle traffic, and increasing the number of perimeter patrols. The report also points out the addition of a second screening location leading to the airport’s boarding area to relieve passenger congestion.
One change in store for airport parking is a planned price hike. To counteract the costs of additional security, Elwood presented a proposal to the county that would raise parking rates from $5 to $12 for a day and from $25 to $70 for a week.
“That’s an extraordinary amount to charge. In San Jose you don’t pay that much, or Denver,” Commissioner Shellie Roy said. “I would like to find a way to make it more equitable.”
Assistant Aviation Director Ray Krebs said airport administration conducted price comparisons with other airports before suggesting the price hike. However, the county urged Elwood and Krebs to re-evaluate prices among state airport parking lots.
“Seventy dollars seems huge,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “At this time I would not consider it.”
The airport administration has recently applied for a FAA grant that would offset security costs, Elwood said. The grant could also help the airport obtain an electronic fingerprint machine to get faster background information on prospective employees.
Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested the machine could someday be utilized by other local employers, as well.
“If we could use it for other community entities … I think we should look into that,” she said.
The parking lots which surround the main terminal remain an issue, Elwood said. The closest lots, including those designated for short-term and rental-car parking, were closed in September as the FAA determined the danger of vehicles containing explosives.
The airport’s rental lot was reopened late last year under new restrictions – security personnel now search incoming vehicles before allowing them to park. However, short-term parking has remained off-limits, as the lot sits within 300 feet of the terminal.
Elwood said he hopes to open additional lots by applying for a variance from the FAA. A study by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office determined a minimal danger of hidden explosives.
“The goal throughout this was to try and reopen the short-term lot and improve customer service,” Elwood said. “It’s been kind of a moving target.”
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Basalt mayoral candidates Bill Kane and Rob Leavitt said at a Feb. 10 forum they endorsed the town government’s $1.34 million expenditure to expand a riverfront park. Candidate and councilman Bill Infante said not so fast and provided an alternative view.