Board to advise against airport authority

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— The Yampa Valley Regional Airport Advisory Board doesn't believe a statutory airport authority will solve the airport's fiscal woes.

That's the message the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of County Commissioners can expect to hear during a joint meeting from noon until 2 p.m. Monday at the Routt County Courthouse.

The two government bodies asked their respective staffs to research formation of an authority in September. Tentatively, an airport authority would have assumed ownership of Northwest Colorado's only commercial airport, and possibly general aviation airports in Steamboat and Craig as well.

However, the authority would not have the ability to ask the voters for permission to levy taxes. Advisory board members concluded that lacking its own autonomous source of funds, the authority could not accomplish the primary goal at YVRA.

"The number one issue is funding that airport," Councilman Paul Strong said. "(The terminal) has functional problems."

Strong joined the advisory board earlier this year. He said he could see some distinct advantages to forming a statutory authority, but in the end, he agreed with the majority.

First, he said advisory board members determined that creation of the authority would not lead to a solution to the funding challenge of building a new terminal.

The authority would still have had to go to the city and county, and appeal for funds.

Second, Strong said the group decided it didn't make sense to link the futures of YVRA and the Steamboat Springs Airport.

"We asked ourselves, 'Is there any purpose in putting the Steamboat Springs Airport under the airport authority?' and we generally concluded 'no,'" Strong said. "Some people felt there might be a cost savings, but I've felt there probably wouldn't be a lot of efficiencies."

On the plus side, Strong believes a new authority would have formalized the city's participation in YVRA, something he believes it should do. Second, he thinks the authority could have been a bridge, building public confidence to support a future taxing entity to fund the airport.

Ulrich Salzgeber was one of just two airport advisory board members voting to recommend an airport authority. The other was Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employee Janet Fischer, voting by proxy for Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth.

Those voting against the formation of an authority were Sharon Nereson, Strong, Marty Kolonel, Gordon Jones, Marianna Raftopoulos and Tom Gilchrist, voting for Don Jones.

Salzgeber observes the day-to-day operation of the airport terminal in his role as manager of Alpine Taxi. He believes that while the air side of the airport functions at a high level, the terminal is becoming unworkable.

"We've got a major infrastructure problem with the terminal out there," Salzgeber said. "It's a very uncomfortable and unsafe situation out there. I just don't think it's ever healthy to have that many people in a constrained area. Nothing should be that crowded on a continuous basis. I was hoping an authority would de-politicize it."

Salzgeber said he's not particularly devoted to a single solution to the airport terminal space crunch, he'd just like to see it fixed.

The constraints have grown tighter since Sept. 11, as airline passengers have been urged to arrive at the airport two hours in advance.

"We're going to have four planeloads of people out there," Salzgeber said. "There aren't enough places for people to sit down. With the new screening devices, people will be waiting outside in the wind with their bags. What that terminal needs is space plain and simple."

One alternative the advisory board has contemplated is forming a Rural Transportation Authority, which would be able to ask the voters for permission to raise taxes to fund the airport.

Salzgeber is skeptical about the odds of such a tax being approved. He believes too many Routt County residents see expansion of the airport as a growth issue rather than as a desirable economic development issue.

Strong agreed that the time for an RTA has not yet arrived.

"I don't think we're ready for it," he said.


To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or

e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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