Airport road and taxiway projects near completion

A review of the preliminary minutes of last month’s Archuleta County Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) meeting reflects progress on a couple of vital issues related to Stevens Field.

Without a doubt, the most visible advances of late are the finish of an airport interior road and near completion of a new parallel taxiway.

The two-mile long interior road circumvents the airport runway and connects an existing “Taxiway Bravo” with the Fixed Base Operations (FBO) at midfield. Several private hangars line either side of the taxiway and until now, pilots needing fuel either had to taxi halfway down the runway to the FBO, or wait for a fuel truck to travel the runway to Taxiway Bravo.

Either way, whenever an aircraft or fuel truck occupied the runway, it was temporarily closed to incoming or outgoing aircraft.

Because gas at an FBO, self-serve fuel farm is less expensive than that from fuel truck delivery, most pilots prefer it. Therefore, most have historically taxied the runway.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has heavily frowned on trucks or taxiing planes traveling the runway. With safety the apparent issue, the FAA pushed for — and mostly funded — development of the interior road.

The new parallel taxiway now connects the north end of the runway with the midfield apron at the FBO. By press time, contractors had placed two inches of asphalt on it, and all cross-connectors to the runway. They are now in the process of applying two more inches, with completion expected on, or before, Oct. 17.

Once paving is complete, airport manager Bill McKown said the runway’s north threshold will be restored to original condition, painting will be applied to it and the taxiway, and contractors will finish final landscape grading. He suggested a public “ribbon-cutting” ceremony could take place next Thursday or Friday.

Even though the cost of asphalt increased $180 per ton since the taxiway project was first bid, McKown said Kirkland Construction Llp and RBK Construction, Inc., both of Rye, Colo., completed preliminary earthwork under budget and avoided adding to the project’s overall cost.

“In fact,” McKown said, “the final cost of the taxiway project may come in slightly under budget.”

During the Sept. 25 AAC meeting, Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw raised the idea of possibly selling the FBO building in order to relieve the county of approximately $2 million in debt, including interest. The concept has surfaced in various county discussions from time to time, and Moomaw suggested it might be worth visiting again.

County Administrator Greg Schulte, meanwhile, talked of the county’s ongoing obligation to increase airport financial efficiency and implied that many options, including sale of the FBO, may be available. He recommended consideration of any viable options that would reduce airport reliance on the county’s general fund.

Based on the county’s current loan agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics, Archuleta County must pay roughly $352,000 a year for the next five years, before it actually owns the FBO.

According to county Finance Director Don Warn, the county’s general fund subsidized all airport debt service and expenses to the tune of $593,000 in 2008.

In an attempt to alleviate the county of such a burden, Schulte said McKown and the AAC are cooperating in attempts to find solutions, and their enthusiasm is encouraging.

According to Moomaw, the potential negative implications from the sale of the FBO — particularly in respect to sacrificed control and future revenues — might outweigh its benefits. Therefore, negotiating an extension of the current loan, or refinancing the FBO under more favorable conditions, are among the options being considered.

In the meantime, McKown has presented his preliminary 2009 airport budget to Schulte, Warn and the Board of County Commissioners, and anticipates several adjustments before the final version is complete. He declined requests to disclose the budget amount, but promised to, once the final document is in hand.

chuck@pagosasun.com