The Steamboat Springs City Council's response to development plans for the Steamboat Springs Airport was on target.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to direct Armstrong Consultants, an airport engineering and planning firm based in Grand Junction, to continue preparing for an update of the airport's master plan, a plan that could lead to expansion of the general aviation airport. That action, coupled with the news coming from the city's other airport study - the study into possible alternative uses of the airport - indicate the airport's future is somewhat of a foregone conclusion.
The council, of course, will wait to comment until both studies are presented in February. But we don't have to wait to say what seems obvious - the airport is quite secure.
The city had hired Armstrong in September 2006 to conduct the $216,000 study into the master plan update, which is primarily funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The study includes options for a longer runway, larger hangar and new taxiways at the 255-acre airport site on Routt County Road 129. A 600-foot runway expansion would cost about $10 million, but the FAA and state grants likely would cover 97.5 percent of that cost.
The consultant said the changes at the airport would boost fuel sales and traffic, and that the expansions would pay for themselves in 20 years. We certainly have come to believe in the airport's importance to second-home owners and visitors.
Contrast that news with the progress on the study into alternative uses. Consultant Matrix Design Group, which was commissioned to conduct the $100,000 study, began by interviewing a collection of 48 "stakeholders" - airport tenants, community leaders, government officials, etc. - on the pros and cons of the airport. In a memo presented last month to the Airport Steering Committee, Matrix wrote, "The majority of the stakeholders surveyed indicated the airport should remain open."
This is consistent with what the steering committee learned leading up to hiring Matrix. Five of the seven committee members recommended that the alternative uses study not be conducted at all. The committee cited information from the Federal Aviation Administration that indicated while closure is technically possible, it had never been done and likely would be cost-prohibitive. Any effort to close the airport would require the city to pay the FAA millions in grants issued during the years.
Just five years ago, Yampa Valley Regional Airport was in desperate need of an upgrade. The parking lot was unpaved. The jet apron was restrictive. The terminal was so crowded that a tent had to be erected outside to house passengers waiting to have their bags checked. It made sense then to focus any and all airport funding on YVRA, which has significantly greater economic impact on the community.
But thanks to tens of millions in improvements, YVRA is a very different facility in 2007 with a new terminal, new parking, expanded jet capabilities and more flights than ever. No longer can money spent at Steamboat Springs Airport be seen as bleeding dollars desperately needed in Hayden.
We still want to see the studies. It would be nice to know, once and for all, what Steamboat Springs Airport is costing taxpayers. But as the council is learning, closing the airport isn't a realistic option.