Airport studies taking off

Master plan, alternative report could require 18 months

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Steamboat Springs Airport Steering Committee members

Jack Dysart, lieutenant colonel in Civil Air Patrol, longtime pilot

Paul Ferguson, contractor with Fairview Construction, 36-year Steamboat resident

Bill Jameson, retired patent attorney and pharmacist

Bob Maddox, owner of Mountain Flight Services, which manages more than $1 million in private investments at Steamboat Springs Airport

Eric Morris, former financial analyst with America West Airlines in Tempe, Ariz.

David Sladek, civil engineer experienced in airport design

Michael Turner, retired airline captain, 31 years in commercial aviation, former FAA charter pilot

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John Hanley completes a preflight inspection at the Steamboat Springs airport on Friday afternoon.

— Two studies that will assess future plans and the local impact of the Steamboat Springs Airport are about to take flight.

The Steamboat Springs Airport Steering Committee, appointed by the Steamboat Springs City Council in May, has begun meeting to oversee two separate studies regarding the airport. One study is designed to guide an update of the airport's master plan. Conducted by Armstrong Consultants, an airport engineering and planning services firm based in Grand Junction, the master plan study will assess possibilities for future growth and development at the airport.

A consulting firm has yet to be hired for the second study, an "alternate use" study designed to examine the entire range of uses for the 255-acre airport site. Possible scenarios will include closing the airport and "full development" of it, Steamboat Springs Director of Transportation George Krawzoff said.

The seven-member steering committee will direct and analyze the information provided by the studies, then present findings to the Steamboat Springs City Council in two separate reports.

For years, the Steamboat community has debated the cost and significance of the airport off Elk River Road. But Steamboat residents looking for answers to airport questions will have to wait - the studies are expected to take 18 months or longer.

"Take the time you think you'll need, double it, and then triple that," Chad James of Pro Success Group told the steering committee Thursday at Centennial Hall.

The city has hired James to facilitate steering committee meetings until a consultant for the alternate use study is found. The committee will then work with staff from both consulting firms, including planning director Dennis Corsi of Armstrong Consultants.

The length of the process can be attributed to the complicated questions consultants and the steering committee will face, James said.

"It's not a simple 'airport or no airport' discussion," he said.

The price tag

Krawzoff said the two studies will cost about $317,000. The city will pay about $133,000 of that total over a two-year period.

A $216,000 contract has been finalized with Armstrong Consultants for the master plan study. The city has budgeted $100,000 for the alternate use study, a figure Krawzoff said will be negotiated once a consulting firm is found.

The entire cost of the alternate use study will be paid by "local money" - money from the city's general fund - Krawzoff said.

Funds for the master plan study include nearly $184,000 in grants and $33,000 in city dollars.

Krawzoff said the Federal Aviation Administration has awarded a grant of $150,000 to help fund the master plan study. The Colorado Aeronautical Board, part of the state Department of Transportation, will contribute $33,900 in grants.

Krawzoff said no federal grants are available for the alternate use study.

"The FAA told us they are not in the business of funding alternative studies," Krawzoff said. "They are in the business of funding master plans."

The FAA also is in the business of funding airports.

On Aug. 8, City Manager Alan Lanning received a letter from the FAA reminding city officials of the amount of federal dollars that have been invested in Steamboat Springs Airport.

"In accepting over $9.53 million in (federal Airport Improvement Plan) funds, the city has agreed to specific federal obligations, including a commitment to keep the airport open and make it available for public use as an airport," wrote Craig Sparks, manager of the FAA's Denver Airports District Office.

On Thursday, at least one member of the steering committee disputed the significance of the FAA's letter.

A diverse group

"This is not worth the paper it's printed on," steering committee member Michael Turner said about the FAA letter.

"This has no bearing on what this committee does," Turner said. "The only time I've ever felt threatened by the FAA is when they said, 'Call this number immediately after landing.'"

A retired airline captain, Turner flew planes commercially for more than 30 years. His aviation experience led the City Council to appoint him to the steering committee. He's one member of a group intended to represent a diverse range of community opinions.

The committee also includes the owner of a local flight services company, a civil engineer with a background in airport design, a financial analyst, a retired patent attorney, a contractor and a longtime pilot.

"This is quite a group," City Council President Pro-tem Susan Dellinger told the committee Thursday. "We put you together to use the knowledge that we don't have."

The committee began meeting July 27 and plans to convene once a week through October. Plans for future meetings may be revised, James said, according to the needs of the committee.

On Thursday, the committee discussed four tasks in its immediate future: creating a list of concerns, considerations and information to be addressed by consultants hired for the alternate use study; creating a process for the completion of that study, including public meetings and input; creating a specific set of expectations for the final document that will report study findings; and determining how the alternate use study will be managed along with the master plan study by Armstrong Consultants.

Committee member Bill Jameson said it will be the committee's job to ensure the information gathered is thorough and accurate.

"Too many people put out conclusions without the information to back it up," Jameson said. "I want to see the hard data - I think we should challenge everything, as a committee."

Ongoing debate

Krawzoff said the committee faces a large task.

"Right now, what this group is trying to do is figure out what the facts are for the entire range of options," Krawzoff said. "That range is all the way from closing the airport here and consolidating operations at (Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden) to expanding development here at Steamboat Springs Airport."

Despite the 18-month process, Krawzoff said local debates about the best use for the Steamboat Springs Airport site, and about the airport's economic impact on the community, are not likely to end.

"You can urge people to wait until the facts are known, but that doesn't mean they will," said Krawzoff, who has directed transportation services for the city since 1997. "The airport debate hasn't stopped in the time that I've been here."

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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