Airport in limbo

City Council meeting quells fears of closure, but raises new questions

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— The Steamboat Springs Airport is not in jeopardy of being closed to make room for a race track, said William Martin, who had initially proposed revisiting the use of the airport property last week.

But discussions of potential changes in the use of airport land Tuesday ruffled the feathers of more than a few local fliers, who felt an independent group was circumventing the public process to reroute the community's plans for its airport.

Martin, a former president of the Steamboat City Council, said Tuesday night in front of the council that he never intended the city-owned airport to cease operations to make room for a race track or other facilities.

He said he does think the community needs to put some serious thought into how it can make better use of an airport that continues to lose money. That could include putting in a race track nearby, he said.

"I think cohabitation up there is completely possible," Martin said.

Martin, who first presented the idea to rethink airport uses at a Chamber Resort Association board meeting last Thursday, was not willing to take credit for opening up the debate, claiming he came into discussion of airport policy just recently. No one in the city or the business community, in fact, was willing to put his or her name behind the proposals other than Martin and car race organizer Nick Rose, though documents show that the subject was discussed as early as July.

Pilots and other residents filled the room Tuesday to express their discontent with a process they think could lead to changes at the airport without public comment.

"Open the doors, open the windows, and make this a public process," said Bob Maddox, the owner of Mountain Flight Services, which operates out of the airport. "It has not been a public process so far."

Maddox attributed initial discussion relating to the use of the airport to the chamber's Economic Development Council, which had broached the topic of how to best use the airport at a meeting in July, according to chamber minutes.

Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said the development council had simply wanted to take a survey and study the issue without making any concrete proposals for the airport.

She said an independent group may have formed afterwards to further study the issue, but that group had nothing to do with the chamber.

Regardless of who first discussed the topic, the City Council decided Tuesday to put the issue back in the public's hands by organizing a group of interested parties and officials to work on answering the airport question. The makeup of that group was not finalized on Tuesday.

The airport currently serves private pilots, businesses and emergency service providers but does not have scheduled commercial service, though the city agreed to build a terminal to hold commercial operators for $2.8 million in 1992.

The public is still paying off the more than $5 million in bonds on that terminal, though there has not been commercial service at the airport for six years and no talks are currently underway with airlines to bring scheduled commercial service back, council members asserted.

Martin had proposed bringing back Steamboat's vintage car races to a race track located at or near the airport, though he says the cars would not necessarily take up runway space.

Details of his plans for the land were somewhat vague at the meeting, though Martin said afterward that private land near the airport would more likely be the site of a race track for vintage auto races.

Although Steamboat used to host vintage auto races on Mount Werner Circle, they stopped in 1998.

Regional Affordable Living Foundation Executive Director Rob Dick said he did not want to see the airport turned into affordable housing, which he said had been a rumor.

City Transportation Director George Krawzoff said he had been involved in discussions with Dick and others about how the city can best use the airport before Martin proposed his idea to the chamber.

Krawzoff said he thought group discussions and questions on the survey implied that the airport could be closed to make room for other uses.

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