Cliff Runge: Guest Opinion | AspenTimes.com

Cliff Runge: Guest Opinion

Cliff Runge
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

“Best of all is to win. But if you can’t win, fight for the noble cause.” – Hyperides, 338 B.C.

“Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas, (CO2) in the atmosphere.” – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 A.D.

It was during the Feb. 7 Pitkin Board of County Commissioners work session on the airport master plan that I realized Andrew Doremus’ and my goal of developing a carbon-neutral, local fixed-base operation on the east side of our airfield was never going to become a reality.

I watched aghast as airport consultants misrepresented the east-side concept as being unable to meet county minimum standards (not true), while simultaneously presenting a Gulfstream 650 Club hangar development on the west side as actually meeting those standards (again not true).

It was obvious that the general-aviation area of the airport was being sold to the very few, very rich users of the facility.

Our airport administration and its paid consultants have had untold hours to present their expansionary vision for the airport to the commissioners and even went so far as to hire an excellent public relations firm, with public funds, to help “sell” the plan to the community. And since the airport administration acted as a filter and final arbitrator of information presented to the commissioners, many community voices were never heard (and apparently still are not – North 40?).

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I personally vowed to change that.

After witnessing the bias and distortions of the airport consultants, my decision to fight the good fight for the noble cause began. And with tremendous support from numerous individuals over the past four months, significant progress has been made by involved community members in bringing some reasonable compromises and reductions to the overall scope of the proposed airport expansion.

Massive hangar development has been dropped from the plan; the concept of an underground parking structure has been eliminated; the 95-foot county wingspan ordinance has been enforced, and it looks like a compromise is possible on the proposed two-story commercial terminal. There are still other concepts, most notably making progress on carbon neutrality at our airport, that I will continue to pursue, but progress definitely has been made in aligning the airport master plan more closely with our community values and character.

Alas, in the carefully choreographed airport work session with the commissioners and the Federal Aviation Administration on May 22, a disturbing trend has begun to emerge. With the wonderful exception of Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who clearly stated that the residents have a right to be concerned about what is being proposed at the airport, the remaining board members seem upset with the efforts (I would say “duty”) of local residents to question and protest the single largest expansion of the airport in its history.

And, with Aspen Chamber Resort Association now jumping into the debate, publicly calling those who question the county’s proposal to double the size of our airport “naysayers,” it appears that the idea of making our county government and airport administration the victims of an overzealous residents’ movement has firmly taken root.

I know the idea of simply believing in something enough to take action on it without expecting personal gain or profit is becoming something of a rarity in our capitalist system, but that is precisely what I and many other individuals have done in questioning the expansion of the airport. Having had the privilege of spending 26 years working at our airport in the aircraft charter and fixed-base operator business, and hopefully I believe, running a fair but profitable business, I became a great admirer of the political courage it took for our community to maintain the local character of the airport and resist the ever-present pressure by development interests and the seemingly unlimited money that exists in our unique community.

As an example, Donald Trump tried to convince the commissioners in the 1980s to allow the construction of his own special parking pad, strong enough to hold his private 727, to which the board politely declined, regardless of implied threats of legal action. The pressure to maximize the development potential of our airport has existed for decades; it just appears that now, and perhaps with good intent and reason, we are capitulating to those demands.

Lastly, what I am now attempting to suggest, is that if we as a community agree to proceed with this expansion, perhaps now would be the time (since we are about to hit 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide globally), to boldly demand new developers take a significant step in combating climate change; by having the county require carbon neutrality of aviation fuel sales at the airport. In a nutshell, have the new fixed-base operation (and the existing one when the current lease expires) be required to make alternative energy investments to offset retail fuel sold at our airfield.

Now, this concept is either so novel and unique, it is not worth discussing, or so frightening to political, development and business interests at the airport, that after 18 months of “public input” into the master planning process, Andrew and I have yet to be allowed to publicly present the idea. And, our efforts to get local environmental groups to support this progressive proposal have likewise fallen short. Again, this may be because of some combination of my inability to clearly communicate the idea; it’s not the great idea I think it is; or perhaps, the “green movement” has not yet reached the stage of maturation where radical changes to “business as usual” are pursued with much vigor.

But whatever the reason, it is the noble fight, and I find it my duty to continue it.

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