Plans for a new terminal at the Durango-La Plata Airport dominated discussion when the county commissioners held a community forum in Ignacio last week.
Ignacio area resident Charles MacKown challenged the cost versus benefit of the proposal to build a new 82,000 square foot terminal on the east side of the runway, along with a new parking lot with 1,500 spaces, four airline gates, and a new access road from Highway 172. The very preliminary cost estimate for all that is $85 million to meet current airport needs.
"It doesn't make sense," MacKown insisted. "If build-out is in 2020, you are behind already." He also questioned how predictions for airport capacity needs were determined.
Commissioner Brad Blake said, "We ask ourselves the same question. Projections don't always come true."
The three options presented initially to meet expected needs in 20 years all cost around $140 million, he said. "We said wait a minute. Let's dial it back. But we want something that can be added on to. That makes a lot of sense to me over time. Remodeling (the option to remodel and expand the existing terminal) is never as cheap as you think it's going to be."
Ignacio town trustee Tom Atencio agreed about the opportunity to expand in the future.
Blake said that with the new terminal on the east side, the airport still has the west side infrastructure that can be put to other uses.
County Manager Joe Kerby said, "The line of thought I've heard from airport staff is to lease that out."
Commissioner Julie Westendorff commented, "For me it was, 20 years out, I don't want to look at not being able to expand because there isn't room on the west side, thinking we put all the money on the wrong side of the airport."
Tiffany area resident Chris Ribera cited complaints of retrieving luggage as one of the capacity issues at the old terminal. He said it's because the airlines don't have enough staff. MacKown agreed.
Airport discussions earlier in March included seeking voter approval for a property tax increase to pay the local share, possibly around half, of the $85 million.
Oxford area rancher Ralph Klusman asserted, "I wouldn't put down 10¢ of my property tax for this airport."
Ribera said he supports the airport plan.
Allen McCaw, whose extended family owns a lot of land around the airport, had concerns about the new access that would be part of moving the terminal to the east side of the runway. The proposed location for the Highway 172 access has bad sight distance, he said, plus, "It would go through the spring that's my drinking water. There's a bald eagle roosting there, and the recommendation was to cut (the tree) down." He doesn't want that and he suggested U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services won't want it either.
Westendorff thanked him for that information. "These are the kind of thing we need to know. Any change, there has to be buy-in from the community."
The proposal could have other flaws too, McCaw said.
Westendorff responded, "If option 3 (the new east side terminal) doesn't make sense after we look into it, we'll do something different."
County Public Works Director Jim Davis said the plan will have to go through the federal environmental review process. He also said the new intersection on Hwy. 172 "could drive the need to acquire more property."
McCaw assumed that would affect one of his relatives. "Was that (cost) figured into the alternatives?" he asked.
Westendorff said, "One of the things we're expecting in the next stage is improving the accuracy of the (cost) numbers, and the funding side of it." She noted comments at previous meetings that much of the local cost share should fall on airport users.
Airports can't just jack up their fee on tickets. They are limited to $4.50 per ticket, she said. "That's not going to build a new airport. Congress is considering raising that to $9. The resistance from the airlines blows my mind, even though they charge $500 to fly to Denver. The airport isn't in a position to directly tax tickets."
Some of the comments didn't involve the airport plans.
McCaw complained about weeds on airport land causing his weed control costs "to go through the roof." He wants the county to deal with its weeds.
Ribera said the County Road 328 intersection onto Hwy. 151 is dangerous and needs to be reconfigured.
A woman on CR 312 complained about high property taxes on a small rural business. County planning staffer Jason Meininger referred her to the County Assessor's Office. The state dictates how property is assessed, he said.
Darlene and Lillian Mestas on CR 320B objected to possible extension of their dead-end road to connect with Hwy. 172 south of Ignacio, especially if it would involve any eminent domain taking of some of their property or other people's property.
With the new elementary and middle schools, CR 320 has more traffic than it can handle, and a south connection to the highway would make it even worse, they said.
"We are hoping there are other ways than taking an old country road and making it something it shouldn't be," Lillian Mestas said.
Ignacio can't afford to take over and maintain these roads, they said. They suggested a new north-south road farther west, although they said that might require discussion with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
Ignacio Town Manager Lee San Miguel said, "We'll look at all the alternatives."