Airport seeks grant match

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After receiving a grant for fall air service into Yampa Valley Regional Airport, officials have to find $52,500 for a local match.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association officials, as well as Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan, discussed the dilemma with the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Janet Fischer, director of airline programs for Steamboat Ski Area, and Sullivan helped secure the Air-21 grant. The grant is from the U.S. Department of Transportation and provides $500,000 during three years to supplement air service to the area.

Officials have received a proposal from Continental Airlines to provide the service. For Continental to fly planes into the airport from its hubs, it needs to have a certain amount of revenue guaranteed. That originally was estimated at $250,000 but jumped to $300,000, mostly because of fuel costs. The new estimate only provides for four flights a week.

For a $300,000 guarantee, the local match must be $80,000. Of that, officials have secured $27,500 from local municipalities.

It's unlikely that the total $52,500 will be needed. If planes carry more passengers or if more commitments are secured, that cost will decrease.

County commissioners were asked whether they were willing to take on the risk that, in the worst-case scenario, they might have to pay the full $52,500.

"The gap is quite concerning," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

Monger said he saw the county as facilitating the process of getting the grant. But he never thought it would contribute a large portion of the local match.

"I didn't envision $50,000, and I didn't envision $20,000," he said.

He said he wanted to be able to justify the final amount the county agreed to contribute.

Sullivan said that the county could consider sales tax revenues from the additional visitors the planes bring as contributing to that $52,500 cost. Another option is to apply fees that planes pay for landing, for example, to that cost.

In the next few weeks, officials will work to get a similar proposal from Delta Airlines. They also will work up more estimates about what the plan could cost the county.

They have to make a decision about whether to go forward by mid-May.

Andy Wirth, vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski Area, said that when Continental flights were coming in, other airlines likely would follow.

If the county passes up this opportunity, it might not come again, officials said.

"This is probably our only opportunity to use federal dollars to determine whether fall flights would be feasible," Sullivan said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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