Steamboat Springs Hayden officials are looking into whether Yampa Valley Regional Airport passengers could help pay for a major infrastructure upgrade they say would benefit the airport and the town.
Town officials say if it's legal, a new "head tax" assessed on passengers could be used to construct a new water tank to improve the flow and quality of water to the airport, increase the safety of the facility and also accommodate future development in the area.
“In this economy we're struggling to find a way to pay for it ourselves,” Town Manager Dave Torgler said. “If we could implement an air tax, perhaps it would be prudent to do that. We just don't know yet if we can or not.”
Torgler said without the tax revenue, grant funding or an alternative revenue stream, the town cannot afford to embark on the project it estimates will cost $2.4 million.
Torgler said the new water tank at the airport would increase the safety of the facility by eliminating a lag between the time firefighters call for water and when the water is ready for use.
He said the tank also would serve as an important backup water source in the event the town's sole water tank on Hospital Hill were to fail or if the 2.5-mile line to the airport were to break.
“The town wants to work with the county to meet these needs,” Torgler said.
Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said Monday his facility has significant water needs, including the need for better pressure in the terminal building and at fire hydrants along the runway, but he didn't see the air tax as a viable — or legal — solution to the problem.
He said federal law prevents states and municipalities from imposing their own taxes on interstate commerce such as air travel, and a head tax in Hayden would likely draw opposition from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ruppel said the Routt County Board of Commissioners is scheduled next month to hear the results of an engineering study of the airport's future water needs.
After that presentation, Ruppel said he plans to continue meeting with Hayden town officials to discuss the best options for infrastructure upgrades to the airport.
“We want to make sure whatever is done not only helps the airport out, but also the town of Hayden,” Ruppel said.
Footing the bill
Hayden's pursuit of a new water tank comes almost a year after county commissioners voted to spend $500,000 to build a pair of 15,000-gallon tanks at YVRA to meet the increased water needs of the airport's recently expanded terminal building.
The vote came after engineers with the town of Hayden and the county disagreed about how to address the infrastructure needs. The two governments also were at odds over the amount each should contribute to the projects.
During last year's discussions over water infrastructure at the airport, county commissioners were quick to point out Hayden receives nearly half of its annual sales tax revenue from the airport. Officials with the town counter that Routt County also gains revenue from the facility.
YVRA, which is in the town limits of Hayden, has relied on the town for its water supply for more than 20 years.
And fixing issues with water pressure will require more spending.
West Routt Fire Protection Chief Bryan Rickman said Monday that while the new tanks paid for by the county will allow the airport to run its sprinkler system in the new terminal without a delay, they won't solve all of the airport's water needs.
“You can't really say the tanks are a stop-gap measure, but the tanks they put in are still not the ultimate fix for the airport,” Rickman said. “The ultimate fix is a million-gallon tank at the airport. I think we all agree we need the water out there, but the question is who should pay for it. And that's a good question.”
Rickman said firefighters currently have enough water at the airport to “wash it off a hill,” but there still is an 8-minute delay from when the fire service pump is activated to when full water pressure is achieved from hydrants outside the terminal building.
He said the delay is a concern because the first 10 minutes of a fire often are the most critical.
Rickman said a water leak last year that delayed the opening of the Three Wire Bar and Grill further illustrates the need for a more efficient and reliable system.
Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins said Monday that even before the runways at the airport were upgraded years ago to accommodate the increased visitor traffic, a new water tank was identified as a major need. He said he sees the county as a partner to make the project become a reality.
“We're looking at something that not only would serve the airport's needs, but the future development potential out there,” Haskins said. “The town looks at that area (near the airport) as the best opportunity for economic development, and obviously you need water for that.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com