Push for authority


The Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Commissioners were right to continue their push for the creation of an airport authority last week, even though the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Advisory Board recommended against it.

The advisory board said the airport authority would have little impact. But given the magnitude of the problems at YVRA, it's hard to imagine an airport authority could do much worse.

The issues at YVRA are obvious to anyone who has used the Hayden facility. Parking is a mess. The terminal is antiquated, crowded and lacks seating. Officials can't grow the number of flights because the terminal isn't big enough to accommodate more planes.

And things are getting worse thanks to new federal regulations requiring more intense baggage screening. The new baggage screeners take up most of the space in the check-in area, forcing passengers to form lines outside the terminal. The solution would be comical if it weren't true a tent outfitted with space heaters just outside the baggage check area.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport is in the shape it is in because it has long been treated as an amenity, something that gets funding only after the county meets more pressing obligations roads, bridges, courts and other services.

But in a remote ski resort such as Steamboat, an airport is not an amenity it is infrastructure that is critical to our economy. As such, it should be overseen by an entity whose sole focus is air transportation. An airport authority offers that.

Creating an authority will not be simple. Funding sources must be determined. And county and city officials must resolve whether to include Steamboat Springs Airport in the authority.

When the city winds up its debt obligation to Steamboat Springs Airport in the next three years, it should commit to putting a good chunk of that money toward YVRA. The county should commit to growing its airport contributions. And pursuing dedicated taxes for an airport authority which the city and county discussed last week also makes sense.

If an authority is created, the Steamboat Springs Airport should fall under its jurisdiction. Some have argued that including the Steamboat airport offers no real monetary benefits in terms of operations. That may be true.

But under one authority, the airports can be managed in a way that ensures they complement, rather than compete with, each other. And there is no reason an airport authority should pose a threat to the future of Steamboat Springs Airport.

The bottom line is Northwest Colorado's only commercial airport needs fixing. Creating and funding an airport authority is a good way to get that started.


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