Airport Authority Nears Approval of Extended Operating Hours
by Seth Cagin
May 11, 2011 | 3840 views | 14 14 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The airport authority board met with the San Miguel County Commissioners in a joint meeting on Wednesday.
“Near the end of a handful of endless meetings,” in the words of Telluride Regional Airport Authority board member Jon Dwight, members of the airport board were polled on Wednesday, with every one of them stating his or her support of extending operating hours at the Telluride Regional Airport.

Formal action to allow night flights at the airport is expected to take place at another meeting of the airport board on May 26.

The airport authority board also agreed on Wednesday in the course of a joint meeting with the San Miguel County Commissioners to enter into a memorandum of understanding whereby the two entities will engage in “meaningful” consultation on “substantive” airport operational policy decisions in the future.

The MOU, upon its formal adoption by both boards, doesn’t govern the process to consider night flights that has taken place over the last year, however, since both boards agreed that a lengthy public process to review that issue has taken place.

The meeting of the TRAA board on May 26 will follow a meeting of the county commissioners the previous day during which the commissioners will discuss the recommendation it will forward to the airport board. All three county commissioners on Wednesday said that they believe a full process has taken place, to the credit of the community.

Even if the airport board formally votes to extend the airport's hours later this month, as appears all-but-certain, that may not fully resolve the matter, since an entity called No Night Flights Network has said it will file a lawsuit to challenge any such action. Attorney Erin Johnson, representing No Night Flights Network, repeated that vow Wednesday, insisting that the county should undergo a formal land use code review of the proposal to extend the airport’s operating hours. San Miguel County Attorney Steven Zwick has said that the county may not have the legal authority to undertake such a review under federal law.

Proponents of night flights have argued that extended hours would support commercial airline operations at the airport by enabling airlines to schedule flights to arrive in the evening even in the winter, thereby allowing planes to overnight at TEX so that there can be early morning departures from the airport.

Opponents have expressed concern about noise and safety impacts, and have insisted that “no night flights” was a condition of the airport’s original special use permit to operate granted by San Miguel County in the 1980s. The extent to which any such promise was made is among the issues that have been debated, but is, in any case, not incorporated in the airport’s special use permit.

County Commissioner Joan May, who is a county representative on the airport authority board, said on Wednesday that for her the most important issues boil down to safety concerns on the one hand versus whether or not the airport can survive as a commercial airport without night flights on the other. To lose commercial service at TEX, she said, would hamper the local economy.

Members of the airport board at the Wednesday meeting restated their reasons for supporting extended operating hours, notably that the airport’s financial viability is at stake since the FAA requires a minimum of 10,000 annual enplanements for continued financial support of airport capital improvements and maintenance, to the tune of approximately $1 million a year. For the past several years, the airport has hovered just around the 10,000 number. Moreover, some said, the ability to land at TEX after dark in winter is essential to airlines’ ability and willingness to serve the airport year-round.

The MOU, which will be considered for formal adoption by both boards at future meetings, is a byproduct of the debate over night flights. The underlying issue, apart from whether or not the airport should allow night flights, has been the degree to which the airport operates under federal law and Federal Aviation Administration rules and the degree to which it operates subject to the county’s land use authority.

While those questions could be decided by the courts if the No Night Flights Network lawsuit proceeds, both the San Miguel County Commissioners and the Airport Authority Board have expressed an interest in cooperating to the fullest extend possible, without stepping on each others’ toes. To that end, the draft MOU specifically states that it does not restrict either entity’s legal authority or obligations. The MOU therefore may not prevent disputes over which entity has the ultimate authority over specific decisions, such as decisions over operating hours; it does, however, define a public process, including noticing and opportunities for public comment, prior to future substantive decisions taken by the airport authority.

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FaceOnMars
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May 15, 2011
Those who benefit from an establishment of a slippery slope might truly be somewhat blind to it's existence ... or at least minimize the negative consequences of such. Whereas those who feel the brunt of a slippery slope might over-emphasize the impacts. So, maybe there is truly a "middle ground" to where these sorts of issues play out in reality in the field ... at least with respect to the scope of the current stage / segment.

But the thing with slippery slopes is that they're invariably unidirectional - a one way street. So, it would seem to me that those who guard against impacts of a slippery slope will inherently always be on nebulous ground - given the weight of the ceiling from above is always creating a downward pressure. So, some find themselves always reluctant to give in on an inch for fear of the proverbial mile being taken.

I don't believe this to be a case of fundamentalism, but rather a practical response to patterns of behavior which have historically led to undesired consequences (i.e. a lot of development). Moreover, it's not necessarily consequences related to a particular thing or rule, but often times it's the cumulative systemic output which often includes unintended consequences ... such as the potential for an over abundance of GA night flights and the nuisance (and potential distaster) which it entails.

I find it interesting that we are often asked by special interests who claim to be looking out for the greater welfare of the community to take a step back and look at the "big systems picture" of the Telluride economy in relation to a particular idea/issue (i.e. increase activity during shoulder seasons, hot beds, etc), yet somehow the negative baggage of any given issue from a systems perspective is often overlooked, significantly minimized, or poo poo'd as being a somewhat "petty" concern.

As to whether we ought to facilitate change, you bet we should! I'd be willing to bet that 99.5% of all LUC's have some mechanism to change zoning. HOA's have similar mechanisms. Municipal and county laws and regulations/zoning also have the ability to evolve over time. In the case of the TRAA & night flights, I don't recall there being an officially sanctioned process at the county level with respect to a zoning change (or to the SUP) which was ever engaged. On the contrary, TRAA seemed to bite it's tongue and comply with the 11th hour request of the BOCC for a special work session. Maybe it's just my belief, but I'd say TRAA might want to have it's tongue checked out .... they may have bruised the tip of it over the past year or so.

Robert Moses proved that zoning is not "Biblical":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses

Jane Jacobs proved that power rests with people, not planners:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs

SethCagin
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May 13, 2011
It is a shame there is so much cynicism expressed on this board related to our local governments. (Although this is nothing new.) In this small community, the decision makers, both elected and appointed officials, are our friends and neighbors. On the subject of the airport's expanded hours, for example, I believe that anybody who closely watched the process - regardless of his or her position on the issue - would have been (or perhaps should have been) most impressed by the care and incredible amount of time that was taken with this decision, as the decision makers went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that all voices were heard, all arguments were aired, and all factors were considered. Nothing was rigged, and if the decision makers had an early sense of where they were likely headed, it's not because they weren't listening; it's because by virtue of the time they have put in on their boards they are highly informed far more quickly than the general public can become equally knowledgable about complex matters.

One more point. Zoning is not Biblical. It is not contractual. It is not handed down by higher authorities. Nor can it be adjudicated by consensus or, except in rare cases, by direct democracy.

"A deal is a deal" strikes me as a fundamentalist argument: "Thus it was written, thus it shall be." Just as with the Bible and the U.S. Constitution, with local zoning there is a lot of ambiguity as to how things were initially written and what they meant then and what they mean now. Zoning must be allowed to evolve as conditions in the community change.

The big challenge with zoning and land use decisions, everywhere, not just in here, as we have seen with both the airport issue and the effort to devise a new master plan in MV, is that while immediate neighbors' may be strongly impacted, the public interest is diffuse. Thus, opposition from a few who are understandably defending their private interests can be fierce while support from the many who stand to benefit a little can be mild. It is, of course, the job of public officials to represent the PUBLIC interest. It is to their credit when they find a way to do so in the face of so much unfounded cynicism.
gcraig
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May 13, 2011
Dear FOM:

Because the voters of san miguel county don't have a fiduciary duty to insure the survival of a commercial airport. That is what TRAA was established for and the various town/county boards appoint the members of that organization.

I think it also questionable whether or not FAA/federal regs would let voters have a say on operating hours. If the BOCC has no legal authority on the issue then the voters don't either. The entire purpose of the federal rules is to prevent local airport opposition from interfering in interstate commercae (eg the air transport system). This is a textbook case of why the system works the way it does. The purpose of having an independent board whose sole fiduciary duty is to the sucess of a commercial airport is to insulate it from populist pressure and myopic pressure from neighbors.

I'm done with this having spend now nearly 100 hours on the issue. Thanks for the dialog.

It's over, let it go.

Greg

prettyplease
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May 13, 2011
Dear GC,

Dont be surprised to find that the second homeowners and"rich" airport homeowners are using county employees to make their web site and promote "their" cause.

Since some county employees may have government restricted housing that lets them enjoy the ultra rich lifestyle at the airport, they find it in their interest to protest any changes in their neighborhood. They have to hide- we subsidize their housing and jobs-they are being paid to be at work when they are at the meeting and then go back to work and work on the anti-airport web site.

Our government boards and employees are very secure in their lifestyles-after all the public is here to serve them -arent we ?
FaceOnMars
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May 12, 2011
Greg,

I realize things change; however, to invoke the most effective change, I believe it's best to involve all of the players who have a vested interest in the existing status quo state. If agreements are to be changed, then lets get those parties together and start a dialogue.

From what I can gather, this was more akin to a dictation. While the idea was raised a while ago and residents/citizens/SMC's concerns have been addressed at meetings along the way, my take on it is that it was clearly a done deal from the get go.

I know we've been through this already and I realize what you're claiming might have some legal validity, but my point still remains the TRAA hasn't attempted to disengage from the agreement in manner which respects the fact that two parties entered into and have co-existed with a common agreement - which will now simply be unilaterally abandoned.

Why not put it to the San Miguel County voters? At least there'd be some level of credibility with respect to honoring the spirit of that agreement which allowed the airport to operate in the first place.

gcraig
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May 12, 2011
FOM:

Agreed, allowing GA is different that originally envisioned.

First, things change, every government zoning/land use decision is subject to change over time. Governments change, residents change, economy changes, lessons are learned. This was outlined by one of the elected officials at yesterday's meeting but I can't remember exactly which one. If the change is desirable to some then they whole heartedly support it if it isn't they scream "promises broken."

Second, and as important, the original restrictions in the SUP were not legal at the time but no one challenged them. Under a 1983 case US vs. Westchester County (see http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1127&context=pelr&sei-redir=1#search="westchester versus faa airport restriction") the federal court ruled that commercial airports are part of the interstate commerce system therefore subject only to FAA control when it comes to operating hours. Local authorities cannot interfere with operating hours at an FAA funded commercial airport. Further an airport cannot discriminate between classes of use (without an act of Congress, per Aspen).

This was covered extensively by two of the three Commissioners in yesterday's meeting and is the opinion of county attorney Zwick.

Finally, as I outlined at the meeting, the Telluride region has for at least the past 20 years ridden on the back of a giant real estate/credit bubble nationwide. We had the luxury of saying "gee, let's not make it easier for people to get here because there's such a demand they're going to come anyways, and if they choose to go elsewhere we still have a lot of jobs building houses/condos/etc."

Now that huge tailwind has shifted 180 degrees into a massive headwind. New house builds last year in Colorado, about 350 versus over 3,500 a few years ago. Colorado's unemployment rate is still on the way up eighteen months after the offical end of the recession. Property valuations delivered this week from county, down 20-30% (translating into a 9% drop in county revenue). Foreclosure list lengthening by the day. At least for the foreseeable future we are no longer a recreation/real estate economy. We are a recreation economy, directly in competition with many others for every tourist dollar. As was outlined at the meeting yesterday time and time again in every economic planning/research/etc effort the issue of accessibility is at the front of the line in enhancing Telluride's ability to attract paying guests and to get more second homeowners to turn into full timers.

That is a huge shift and a minor change to airport hours, while not a panacea, is one lever amongst many we can adjust to help.

FaceOnMars
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May 12, 2011
Greg: what about curfew stipulations re: general aviation?
gcraig
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May 12, 2011
San Miguel County Board of County Commissioners Special Use Permit, BOCC Resolution No. 1983-21

“Commercial aviation flights shall operate from sun – up, as defined by F.A.A. regulations, to 10:00 p.m.”

There is no abrogation of prior promises.

The issue is simple:

Without the extension of operating hours and potential for increased passenger enplanements the airport is seriously at risk of losing its commercial status. If that happens it becomes a private airport without FAA funding, or minimal funding. We lose all commercial air service.

The costs of this change is only 30% more operating hours for only 30% of the year. Seems a small price to pay to insure continued viability of the airport.

As for accusations of a whitewash process that is BS. Had you been at yesterday's meeting you would have seen the County Commissioners having spent a lot of time thinking about the issues/options/etc and each coming to the conclusion that this is a necessary change.

It's very easy to be a lazy Monday morning quarterback at your keyboard and disparage the hard work of boards and elected officials. It is much more difficult to actually dig into the facts, do some research, go to the meetings, listen to others' opinions and try to influence the debate in a concrete fashion with facts.

ResponsibleFreePress
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May 12, 2011
Ms. You Don't Say-

Aaagh, the thought police at it again...

Yes, Glib.

Glib is better than the wholesale abrogation of the agreement on the operating hours..like you I have cast those people to the wind and am ok with letting them fend for themselves (and they will, it seems, through their attorney who doesn't realize that it is futile)

I am practical because we have spent 60 million dollars on the thing..I have flown out of Tride many times on private jets and I am actually glad to have the runway flatter (not flat) flatter..

Yes, Ms. Say, we do need to join the world of competition-on air travel convenience, ski pricing that is reasonable, (er, oops, I forgot that discussion is never going to take place-"it isn't in the marketing plan")...because we ain't Aspen..we just have their pricing..

Toodles.

YouDon'tSay?
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May 11, 2011
Mr. RFP,

If you were for real on this issue, you'd be booking a MORNING FLIGHT OUT and a NIGHT FLIGHT IN.

You betray yourself by being so glib. You try to make it sound trivial, but in fact, it is only practical-- not earth shattering, but practical -- for airlines, for the airport, for residents who travel in and out, and for visitors who travel in and out.
ResponsibleFreePress
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May 11, 2011
Yep, night flights a coming to Telluride...no doubt now and their never was..

The delay and the extra meetings were just fo show...

But we do have 60 million dollars in this thing and we spend 6 billion more than we take in every day in this country so we ought to put it to use...

Yes, FOM, you must be a Darker, well, thats ok by me...everyone always knows where you stand even if they wonder who is Mr. Face On Mars..

Ha, have a good night, I am heading to Cheaptickets to book an evening flight out..
gcraig
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May 11, 2011
FOM:

A) the no night flights arguments don't stand on their merits.

B) I would not care about the identity of the no night flights folks if they hadn't delivered a draft lawsuit to the airport board and county commissioners. isn't just a little weird that group that has promised a lawsuit is unwilling to reveal any information at all about who is behind it?

C) it makes a difference to the argument if NNF is really just a couple of rich second homeowners versus the many hard working telluride folks who showed up at the meetings.

D) NNF solicits contributions on their web site. In Colorado it is illegal to do so unless you are registered with the Secretary of State.

Cheers,

Greg
FaceOnMars
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May 11, 2011
I thought I was actually going to get some work done today, but between the Buffalo Springfield rejection & now this ...

I fail to see how this was a legitimate "process" other than maybe a PR routine: it seems to me that minds were made up long ago. There was clearly an agreement made with SMC long ago. I have a difficult time seeing how unilaterally disengaging from an agreement equates to a "process"?

As to the "No Night Flights" group apparently not providing identities, I really don't see how this matters? Ought not an idea or position stand on it's own merit vs. it's validity being dependent upon the individual who's making the claim or relaying the idea?

Maybe I'm just an "in the darker" ... partly since I still believe Wrigley Field would have been better off without lights!
gcraig
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May 11, 2011
First, Seth thanks for your incredibly timely and thorough reporting throughout this process.

Not reported is the absolute refusal of the purported "No Night Flights Network" attorney to reveal who exactly this group is. Nor would she divulge how many of this mysterious group are wealthy second homeowners versus full time working residents of San Miguel County. Further there is no record of their existence on the Colorado Secretary of State's web site.

So here is a group who refuses to divulge even its board members or director's names, threatening to sue both the airport and the county costing both a lot of money. It is also illegal in Colorado to solicit donations, which this group's website does, without registering with the State.

Apparently the primary opponents are either on a nice off season vacation at the beach or at their primary homes outside of our area because they couldn't be bothered to show up at this meeting while a lot of hard working San Miguel County residents did make it despite the raging blizzard.

Thanks also to Joan May who sits on both the County and Airport Boards and has done a fantastic job of facilitating this entire process.

Sincerely,

Greg Craig