Steamboat Springs Beginning today, armed personnel from the Army National Guard will staff Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens decided last week to use the National Guard to provide security at 14 Colorado airports. Because of the executive order, the guardsmen are expected to be used primarily at airport security checkpoints.
Airport Aviation Director Jim Parker did not have more specific details on the guardsmen.
"We are one of the 14 airports that was identified," he said Monday. "We will get our troops in the morning. I don't know the exact number. They will be at the airport at least for four to six months.
"This is additional, visible force in the airport."
County officials questioned what putting the National Guard personnel in place means in terms of the county's responsibility at the airport.
"Who is in control? Who is accountable?" Commissioner Doug Monger asked. "This could be a real mess."
The county-owned airport already has private security, and Routt County Sheriff John Warner has stationed a deputy at the airport daily since Sept. 11 to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements established following the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Owens' National Guard mandate goes above and beyond the FAA guidelines.
Neither Parker nor Warner knew what role, if any, the guard personnel could perform beyond security.
"Their primary function is the security checkpoint," Parker said. "We are trying to determine what other things they can do at the airport so they don't get bored."
Warner and Parker are both hopeful guardsmen can be used to patrol the perimeter of the airport and the parking lots.
Warner said his sense is that, even with the guardsmen, he will have to continue to provide an additional deputy at the airport.
"I don't think they are going to come in here and relieve us of all our responsibilities," Warner said.
According to information Warner has gathered, the guardsmen have the power to enforce all Colorado laws and to detain anyone who is believed to have committed a crime.
However, arrests are to be handled by local law enforcement agency, Warner said.
Warner had planned to ask commissioners Monday for an additional deputy to patrol the airport during the winter months. But Warner postponed his request once he received word the airport would get guardsmen.
Because Warner does not fully know what role the guardsmen will take on at the airport, he is not inclined to ask for an additional deputy, who would be paid $21 an hour.
To fill any void that may arise, Warner has assigned Undersheriff Dan Taylor to coordinate the hiring of seasonal law enforcement employees to fill in this winter, when travel in and out of the airport increases significantly to accommodate ski season.
In the past, the Sheriff's Office has hired off-duty police officers from the Moffat County Sheriff's Department and the Hayden and Craig police departments to work at the airport.
To ensure the program runs smoothly, those officers who are interested in working at the airport for $17 an hour will have to go through training.
"If an officer does not go through the training, they will not work at the airport," Taylor said.
For now, the one thing Warner can count on at the airport is the guardsmen.
"Hopefully, the National Guard will be able to help us," Warner said.