Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Public comments about the proposed Aspen–Pitkin County Airport expansion cover gamut: Business demand, quality of life cited

Two weeks ago, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners decided unanimously to submit the long-anticipated environmental analysis (EA) for the proposed expansion and upgrade of the Aspen Airport to the Federal Aviation Administration. That action is a pre-requisite for the FAA to grant approval to move and widen the airport’s runway so that it may accommodate the next generation of regional jets, which boast wider wingspans than those found on the jets now utilizing the airport.

Currently, wingspans are limited to 95 feet. Under the proposal outlined in the EA, the maximum wingspan would be raised to 120 feet by relocating the airport’s lone runway 150 feet to the west from its current location.

The 247-page EA, which also covers impacts commensurate with a new terminal building, was extensive.

“The Federal Aviation Commission requires 26 components of the EA process,” Airport Administrator John Kinney said in Dec. 2016. “Several of them do not apply to us, such as ‘impacts on coastal areas.’ Still, this is a complex process. We still have to evaluate noise, air quality, surface transportation and socio-economic impacts.”

According to the EA, the terminal area (design, terminal construction, apron construction, parking and roadway improvements) would cost approximately $90,475,777 for either of the two alternatives presented in the EA, dependent on final design and finishes selected. This would be completed beginning in 2018 and continuing through 2022.

The runway shift (design and construction) would cost approximately $87,488,974. These projects would be completed between 2023 until 2027. 

The runway reconfiguration, terminal improvements and associated improvements would be completed using a combination of local, state and federal funding, paired with money from the Passenger Facility Charge fund. 

The EA indicates that no new federally defined “thresholds of significance” would be exceeded if the proposed projects were to be implemented.

A major component of the EA, which cost about $2.3 million and took more than two years to complete, is public comments.

Between the release of the draft EA last winter and the final document, released in August, several hundred public comments were incorporated into the process via a Community Input Committee, several open houses and Pitkin Connect.

Before its vote to send the EA to the FAA, the BOCC heard about a dozen in-person comments during the public hearing process. About half were pro-airport expansion and about half had concerns about the proposed runway expansion and the new terminal.

Comments gleaned from the other sources were not read aloud during the BOCC’s deliberations, though they were included in the agenda packet given to each BOCC member.

Herein we present a smattering of comments that were sent to the FAA via the BOCC as part of the EA.

• “We are looking forward to finally getting a state-of-the-art terminal and runway. Our family has enjoyed our second home in the area for decades, however, getting to and fro has always been the worst part. A longer runway would allow more direct flights, leading to more skiers and customers to our businesses.”

— Paul McDonough

• “I fail to remember the voters approving an enlargement to the airport and you work for the voters. This voter is against your plan. Enlarging the airport will fundamentally change our city. We are popular because of our small-town, charming character.”

— Ron Thompson

• “When did citizens approve an enlargement to the airport? Can we bring torches to these meetings? The expansion is being crammed down the community’s throat — just like all the new government buildings only the bureaucrats hungry for more power want in our little village.”

— Name not shown

• “Some 50 years ago, an article appeared about the necessity of keeping our airport small. Of course, the financial interests ignored it as they will ignore it now. It’s a shame that, in a world gone bad with global warming and an ignorant upper class, that we cannot find something better to do with this money. My absentee neighbors are all cutthroat CEOs with no morality. They want to come and go in the largest possible contrivances.”

— Name not shown

• “Why are we not allowed to vote on the airport expansion? It’s just like the new city hall that is larger than the Art Museum — the voters get no input on whether we want it or not.”

— Lee Mulcahy

• “I realize that many people are all excited about recent projections of increased flights and larger aircraft in order to bring in all those tourist dollars. Does anyone ever bring up the fact that the airport happens to be surrounded by residential neighborhoods which are already negatively impacted by airport noise and pollution? Who wants to live near DIA?”

— Nancy Tate Hall

• “I am opposed to the airport improvements for the following environmental reasons: The expansion will impact sensitive areas including but not limited to wildlife-sensitive zones, wetlands, water flow, noise and pollution.”

— John Edwards

• “Aspen has said again and again in its community plans that it wants to be a tourism-driven and resort-based economy. Maintaining air service is critical to that. Anyone who advocates preventing the improvements to our runway and airport that will allow the next generation of aircraft does not have our community’s true interests at heart.”

— Name not shown

• “As an individual who has closely monitored and has been involved with commercial air service into this valley since 1955, I have learned how important it is to plan for the future. While visitors and locals are currently enjoying the greatest variety of flight options, connections and competition this airport has ever seen, there is currently just one operator flying one aircraft type into the Aspen Airport for all three commercial airlines, and no new CRJ700s have been manufactured or delivered since 2011. By the year 2031, those newest CRJ700s will be twenty years old and nearing the end of their practical lifespan, while the vast majority of CRJ700s will already have been retired from commercial service.”

— Bill Tomcich

• “Currently there is a 95-foot wingspan restriction at ASE. Regional aircraft with this wingspan are phasing out by 2025. If this restriction continues, airlines currently serving ASE will be unable to provide future service at the same level. Since nearly 50 percent of our winter tourism relies on air service, this restriction would potentially damage the economies of both Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.”

— Steve Skadron

• “For the future of Aspen Snowmass, I am in favor of the runway configuration.”

— Tom Cuccio

• “Ten years ago, when ASE lengthened the runway, we were told the improvements were required to meet FAA specifications — that larger aircraft would not be used. Here we are and FAA regulations are pushing us into capacity for 118-foot wingspans and 150,000-pound landing weights! Capacities and FAA requirements are one thing. The community’s right to object to the use of larger aircraft is another.”

— Richard Heede

• “This project may drive me out of the valley.”

— Valerie Braun

Original article can be found here ➤

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