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Airport expansion is investment in local economy

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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 1:30 PM

By Roger Zalneraitis and Emily Meisner

La Plata Economic Development Alliance

The Alliance's vision is for La Plata County to be the premier Rocky Mountain community for business.

Our three current strategic initiatives will help make this a reality. One of these initiatives is "better air service for Durango and La Plata County." An important component of obtaining better air service is fixing the numerous deficiencies at our current terminal.

Ballot Measure 1B would do that with a minimal investment from local property taxes.

A 2016 study from Colorado State University found commercial air service at DRO:

contributes $119 million in household income in our Countygenerates almost $5 million annually in local taxeshelps support almost 1,900 jobs that pay well above the county average wage.Commercial air service raises our income, lowers our tax burden, and supports good paying jobs for all of La Plata County.

But these benefits are threatened because our air terminal is now running at twice the capacity it was designed to handle. This results in numerous deficiencies, including:

no space to bring in new competition at peak hoursa tarmac that is too small for larger aircraft the airlines are converting todelays caused by only one de-icing facility, inadequate baggage loading and unloading areasno storage space for spare aircraft parts which sometimes cancels flightsan undersized TSA that can cause passengers to miss flights. If not addressed soon, these deficiencies could result in reduced air service, and hurt our ability to get newer and better jets from airlines as well as increase airline competition during peak hours.

This November, you will see a ballot initiative, 1B, to correct these deficiencies, create enough space to allow DRO to aggressively pursue new and better air service, and self-finance future expansions as needed.

This ballot initiative asks you to approve a small tax increase in order to help finance construction of a new terminal and facilities on the east side of the runway.

How small? The FAA and airport users from throughout the Four Corners will pay over half the cost of the new terminal. Our local tax increase will cost the average homeowner less than $5 per month. The average business will pay less than $50 per month.

And this small tax increase ends when the 20-year bonds for the expansion are paid.

The Yes for DRO! Issues Committee formed to educate voters about this important initiative. Their website explains why the terminal is needed, how everyone benefits from good air service, the proposal being considered, and its funding. It's at www.yesfordro.org, and the Facebook page is www.facebook.com/yesfordro.

We ask Alliance members and others to support Yes for DRO! and the new air terminal so we can preserve and improve our air service. We'd like to especially thank several of our investors who have already contributed to the campaign, including The Wells Group, Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, The Glacier Club, and Purgatory.

Please call the Alliance at 259-1700 with any questions or comments, or if you need more info. Thank you so much!

Roger Zalneraitis is the executive director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance. Emily Meisner is the board chair.

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