Grant of $9.6 million will fund finish $30 million airport project | VailDaily.com

Grant of $9.6 million will fund finish $30 million airport project

The Eagle County Regional Airport landed $9.6 million in grants for 2017. The money will fund the final phase of a four-year, $30 million apron and concrete project.

Parking shifts

The airport’s east free parking lot is closed for the summer. A concrete batch plant and other materials are staged there. It is expected to reopen on Oct. 1. A portion of Eldon Wilson Road will also be closed.

The west free parking lot will remain open during apron construction.

For more information on the construction project or related closures, visit http://www.flyvail.com/parking-transportation/parking or contact the Eagle County Regional Airport at 970-328-2680.

GYPSUM — If an airport is a hole in the sky through which money falls, then the Eagle County Regional Airport is about to be covered in cash.

The airport will receive grants for more than $9.6 million this year, the final installment in $30 million in federal, state and local funds that rebuilt the airport's aging apron. The four-year project will replace the entire concrete apron — the area where jets are parked.

The project was designed in 2011 and the first phase was completed in 2013. The fourth and final phase is scheduled to be completed this year.

Who's paying

The $30 million project will not directly cost local taxpayers a dime. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Aeronautical Board, the Federal Aviation Administration is picking up 90 percent of the project's $30 million tab through its airport improvement program. That money comes from taxes on fuel and use fees, not from general taxes. For the 2017 project, $8,612,649 will come from the FAA.

About 2.5 percent comes from the Colorado Department of Transportation's fuel excise taxes. Their 2017 grant was $150,000.

The remaining money, $1.2 million overall and $806,961 in 2017, comes from airport reserve funds, money generated by user fees and airline fees.

"They've treated us very well and have been very supportive, and the state department of transportation has been a great partners as well," said Alex Everman, Eagle County airport manager.

The state money is part of the Colorado Aeronautical Board's $1.6 million distribution of state aviation fuel tax revenues. The state grants ranged in size from $8,333 to Eagle County's $150,000. All in, Colorado's airports received $56.6 million from state and federal funds.

Billion-dollar benefit

Before the Great Recession, the airport's economic impact was around $1 billion per year, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. In the years following 2008, the Colorado Department of Transportation put the annual economic impact at around $634 million. The economic impact dropped as passenger numbers declined, due to factors including the national economy, consolidation of airlines, loss of direct routes into Eagle County and airlines' switch to planes that carry fewer passengers.

Statewide, Colorado's airports support 265,700 jobs and create a total economic output of $37.6 billion annually, provide $12.6 billion in annual payroll, and $36.7 billion in total annual economic output, according to the latest Economic Impact Study of Colorado Airports.

"The economic multipliers provided by our airports through the moving of people, goods, and services are tremendous," Colorado Aeronautical Board Chairman Ray Beck said.

Commercial air service began into the Eagle County airport in 1989 with a total of 277 passengers that entire year.

Passenger numbers peaked in 2008 at 214,000. Passenger numbers tanked with the rest of the economy, but were back to 164,000 by 2016, up from 162,000 the year before.

The airport welcomed its 8 millionth commercial passenger in March of 2016.

About the airport

The Eagle County Historical Society tells us that the Eagle County Regional Airport began as a plot of land purchased by Louise Ellen Cooley.

Barnstormers would land there to give rides and perform demonstrations. In the 1930s, airport supporter Harry A. Nottingham began his term as county commissioner and the concept of developing the airport gained momentum. In 1939, E.G. Berry, an engineer with Federal Aviation Administration's Denver Airports District Office, found the location for a new airport on Cooley Mesa to be ideal, filling the gap between Leadville and Grand Junction.

Around the same time, a county commissioner and a local resident borrowed equipment to create a proper road to the airstrip. That road project cost less than $20.

When the U.S. became involved in World War II, the Civil Aeronautics Authority acquired the additional airport property from the Herin Family. The authority leveled the land and constructed a 300-foot-wide-by-3,000-foot-long emergency grass landing strip. This strip was used as an emergency landing facility for aircraft traveling to the West Coast across the Rocky Mountains.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.