Montrose Commissioners Approve $461,944 Improvement, With the County Contributing $44,444 of the Total
MONTROSE – To the dismay of county residents attending a special meeting on Monday, the Montrose County Commissioners gave the go-ahead in awarding a $461,944 contract to Reams Construction Company to complete a new terminal project and site improvements at Hopkins Field in Nucla.
Public outcry against the decision was twofold. While some residents questioned the need for the improvements at the rural airport, others expressed concern that awarding the contract to Reams Construction Company was an outright conflict of interest. John Reams, the owner of Reams Construction, is a member of the Montrose County Airport Advisory Board and is also the Western Slope representative on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Colorado Aeronautical Board.
Most of the contract money awarded to Reams Construction Company comes from a CDOT Division of Aeronautics grant. Montrose County must pay $44,444 of the total contract amount as matching funds. Montrose County Director of Aviation Lloyd Arnold said the new terminal project will bring facilities that pilots have come to expect to the aging airport.
“We do need to provide basic services for pilots,” Arnold said, “including a flight planning room and weather. These are things you expect when you fly into an airport. I believe improving a public use facility for $44,000 is a good investment. The facility we currently have there is 60 years old. We can build a facility that will last for 50 more years.”
In 2012, Nucla’s Hopkins Field averaged 33 aircraft takeoff and landings a week and there were 13 aircraft based out of the field throughout the year. By comparison, the Montrose Regional Airport averaged 72 aircraft takeoff and landings per day in 2012. Montrose resident and pilot Bill Patterson told the commissioners he had concerns with the investment in the Nucla airport, suggesting that the money would be better spent at the Montrose Regional Airport.
“I think the money would be better invested here in Montrose,” Patterson said. “There is only so much funding available and there are so many needs here in Montrose. This is where we can get a return on our investment. With all due regard, Nucla does not pay for itself. Every hanger you can put in here in Montrose equals more fuel sales. I ask you to take a look at what can be done for Montrose.”
Commissioner Gary Ellis said he believes there are opportunities for growth in the West End of Montrose County and that the airport could be a factor in that.
“My take on this is I think we have an obligation that we either invest in it or consider closing it,” Ellis said. “I think there is opportunity for growth in the West End and this airport can become more important.”
Commissioner Ron Henderson agreed.
“It could be critically needed, given the circumstances,” Henderson said. “I feel like it is a good investment in Montrose County’s future, especially if the West End is discovered for tourism and recreational businesses.”
Resident Roger Brown, who attends nearly all county meetings, was given a time limit by Henderson, who directed him several times to “get to the point.” Brown said he had issues both with the conflict of interest and the county spending money on an airport he said is little-used.
“The issue here is this is a black hole and it has been for a few years,” Brown said. “It’s a $3 million expenditure this year. Every time the county accepts money, it extends our promise to keep the airport open or pay them back. This is a bad decision.”
Over his allotted time limit, Henderson sternly told Brown to “sit down.” Brown countered that Henderson was being “rude.”
Resident Jim Rumble also called it a bad decision.
“I don’t care if it’s $40,000 or $40, it’s a bad deal,” Rumble said.
Commissioner David White, who served on the Airport Advisory Board for four years, said the plans for the airport aren’t new and that the investment is needed.
“This is a needed asset,” White said. “In my opinion, as a former member of the advisory board, closing it down was never discussed as an option. I don’t see where there is an issue. I agree that $44,000 is a very small investment in the future of Hopkins field.”
After the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the contract, one resident walked out of the meeting, calling White “sick.”
As for the conflict of interest, Brown, before he was cut off by Henderson, said that Reams Construction should have never even been considered eligible for the contract.
“To have any notion or any perception that there isn’t a problem here is beyond my comprehension,” Brown said. “We have a man here that is the potential recipient of nearly a half million dollars and it just doesn’t smell right. He isn’t a qualified bidder. The rules should be that you must be a qualified bidder.”
Despite the fact that Reams does sit on both the county and state airport boards, Arnold said he had no hand in making any decisions for the Hopkins Field project. Reams Construction Company was one of four companies to place bids on the project and was the lowest cost bidder.
County Attorney Robert Hill closed the discussion by saying he doesn’t see any conflict of interest problems with Reams Construction Company getting the contract.
“Factually and legally, I don’t believe there is a conflict of interest,” he said.