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Alliance: airport supports local business, employers

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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 7:15 PM

An expanded Durango-La Plata Airport isn't just to serve more passengers in the future, it will bring the existing terminal up to date for current passengers.

That was the message Roger Zalneraitis of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance told members of the Ignacio Chamber of Commerce at their September meeting.

Faster Internet and expanded air service are the top items companies mention they need when they are looking to relocate or expand in Southwest Colorado, Zalneraitis said.

This is particularly important for home-based workers, he added. This might not sound important to locals, but it makes up 10 percent of the local workforce.

"Our terminal is starting to break down," he said. "There aren't any cheap or inexpensive ways to fix this."

The expansion also is needed to park five aircraft overnight at the facility. Currently, there is room for four, and there is only one de-icer in the winter, and two are needed to get flights to depart on time.

About half of the $80 million cost of an expanded terminal and runway will be paid for by airport user fees and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The remaining $40 million is a small increase in the county's low tax rates, Zalneraitis added. With the property tax increase, local taxes would rise from the second or third lowest in Colorado to third or fourth, he said.

In March, the chamber voted to endorse the property tax increase.

A few chamber members on Sept. 7 said they weren't sure if they want more people coming to the area.

Short of shutting down area highways, folks are going to move here, Zalneraitis noted, with or without an expanded airport.

The airport, however, will help provide more jobs at livable wages because local businesses can expand, and that benefits people who already are here.

While an organized group hasn't formed to oppose the proposed expansion, some landowners near Ignacio oppose it.

More information from the organization supporting the terminal expansion is online at www.yesfordro.org

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