County signs customs agreement
Eagle County commissioners signed an agreement Tuesday to bring U.S. Customs to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
The agreement makes the airport the first one on the Western Slope with customs, said Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone.
“To execute the agreement, all is needed now is for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities to sign the documents,” said Debbie Faber, assistant county attorney. “The good news is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has agreed to the allowance of one inspector rather than two, cutting the cost in half.”
The cost for one customs agent will be $129,125 for the first year and $115,400 for succeeding years, including all salary and benefits costs. Initially, U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities in Denver were requiring two agents because of the distance from the airport to Denver.
The Vail Valley Jet Center will pay the cost of the agent for the first five years. The jet center also has executed a five-year agreement with Eagle County to provide the space for the customs inspectors for $1 annually.
“We’re on schedule for the end of the summer,” said Becky Gadell, Eagle County assistant administrator. The customs agent will work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The customs service in Eagle County initially will serve private aviation – not commercial airlines carrying passengers.
Once the initiative goes through, private planes coming from outside the country will be flying nonstop to the airport in Gypsum. Currently, planes coming from outside the United States must add a stop to clear customs before landing in Eagle.
“We anticipate 300 international arrivals during the first year,” said Bryan Burns, president of the Vail Valley Jet Center, “with the hope it will increase in the years.”
In 2001, about 350 arriving private planes had to clear customs before landing at Eagle, said James C. Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of the jet center.
“It’s excitingl. It’s one more step the county is taking to have the best airport on the Western Slope,” Stone said. “This is another direct step on the direction of economic development.”
The jet center also will pay the expenses to set the new customs official at its terminal next to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
“Now that we have the county’s agreement, we’ll start work to set the office up,” Burns said.
The Vail Valley Jet Center will collect user fees, and any revenues in excess of the expenses billed by U.S. Customs will be split with Eagle County.
“We expect to recover the cost,” Burns said. “The goal is to make a break even.”
The county also will get a percentage of taxes on fuel sold to the international flights that now will refuel at the jet center, Stone said.
“I believe this could bring more business to the county,” he said. “If you can fly direct from Mexico, maybe you’ll want to buy your ski home here.”
Burns said he expects flights from Canada and Mexico to be the potential market at the beginning.
Faber said U.S. Customs already has started a national search for the customs agent.
“They said it might take a little longer to get somebody because of our location in the mountains,” Faber said.
Other airports in Colorado with U.S. Customs include: Denver International Airport; Centennial Airport in Colorado Springs; and Jefferson County Airport.
“This is a very good step of fostering international flights into our world-class airport,” said Eagle County Commissioner Michael Gallagher.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.