Wednesday, February 28, 2007
It is becoming more and more apparent that the city of Steamboat Springs' efforts to study alternative uses for the city's general aviation airport might be a waste of time and money.
"We're going to do everything in our means to try to convince you not to close the airport," the Federal Aviation Administration's Craig Sparks told the Steamboat Springs Airport Steering Committee last week. "We're going to put the squeeze on you a little bit. You're going to have a hard time persuading us that an airport where 90 aircraft are based is not economically viable, but there is a procedure."
Basically, the procedure would require the city to repay millions of dollars in grant funds to the FAA. There simply isn't an alternative use that would make such payments viable. Certainly, it's hard to see how to put together an affordable housing plan - the alternative use most often mentioned by those who would close the airport - given such upfront costs.
It has been nearly a year since the city commissioned the $100,000 study into alternative uses for the airport. At the same meeting, the city agreed to fund a $250,000 master plan for the airport. The city then created the steering committee to develop the scope of work for the master plan as well as the alternative uses study.
Preparation of the master plan is under way. Unlike the alternative uses study, the plan will recommend work to keep the airport open for years to come.
At its Feb. 13 meeting, the City Council approved seeking bids from consultants to do the alternative uses study. The scope of work in the alternative uses study includes determining the economic impact of the airport on the community, the actual cost of operations at the airport, the city's legal obligations to the FAA, who benefits from the airport, the impact of consolidating air operations at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and, finally, scenarios for alternative uses of the airport.
But given the information from the FAA, perhaps the city should consider adjusting the scope of the study. Is it really necessary to consider alternative uses when closing the airport seems to be such a stretch?
The most important piece of information that will come out of the study, in our opinion, is the actual cost of airport operations.
The problem with the airport is not that it is open. Truth is, it is a good amenity to have, especially for a resort whose economy is somewhat dependent on second-home owners.
Rather, the problem with the airport is its costs relative to its usage. The city should be focused on making sure the financial burden of operating the airport falls primarily on the very small fraction of the population that uses it. If the city can show that the cost to the average taxpayer - most of whom will never use the airport - is minimal, the politics of the airport should dissipate.
It's a shame we have to pay an outside consultant to provide those operational costs, but if it can put this issue to rest once and for all, it will be worth it.
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