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Most get used to noise, except at night

Allen Best
Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp An airplane soars after takeoff from the Eagle County Regional Airport.
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Last summer I was sitting on the patio of a home along Valley Road, conducting an interview with a life-long Gypsum resident, when a private jet roared from the runway, banked sharply, flying directly overhead.

Our conversation ceased just as surely as if some kid had walked between us with a sound machine blasting Snoop Dogg at full volume, causing our bones to hum along.

“Does the noise from the jets bother you?” I asked, once the thunder had ended.

“No, not really,” said the resident. “It’s something you get used to.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in Gypsum and even to an extent in Eagle. Not many people mind the noise all that much – as long as it doesn’t occur at night. Like passing cars, they’ve come to expect it – at least in the daytime.

Unlike Aspen’s Sardy Field, which has a 7 p.m. curfew, jets can, and sometimes do, fly in and out of Eagle County at night. But there is now talk of setting a curfew on operations during evening hours.

County Commissioner Tom Stone says he and other county commissioners have not discussed the evening flights, but he favors restrictions.

“I think after 9 o’clock at night, on a practical basis, you pretty much curtail operations anyway,” he says. “I think we’re going to do those sorts of restrictions.”

But in Gypsum, complaints are few. “I haven’t heard any complaints from anybody,” says Tom Edwards, a Gypsum town councilman. Jeff Schroll, the town manager, reports occasional complaints, but not many.

“I think it’s something people have grown used to,” he says. And he, like many others, points out that newer jets being used by airlines are more quiet, although private jets tend to be noisier.

Regardless of the noise, the planes represent income for Gypsum. Because the airport is located within Gypsum’s borders, money spent there is subject to the town’s sales tax. Last year the town got nearly $600,000, or 44 percent of its sales tax revenues, from the airport.

More than half of the airport revenues come from car rentals. “It’s our sales-tax lifeblood,” says Schroll. Even last summer’s direct flights from Dallas spiked revenues by $35,000.

To ensure the priorities are understood, Gypsum requires those getting subdivisions within the town to sign something called a navigation agreement. The agreement says that the airplanes, and hence noise, can be expected. The town, however, doesn’t mandate that developers similarly pass on the warning to prospective owners.

“If they choose to disclose that to their buyers, that’s their call,” says Schroll.

Eyes wide open

Cotton Ranch is among those housing developments most impacted by the flights. Co-owner and manager Tim Garton reports few complaints, but does concede the airport is a mixed bag.

“But we came into this with our eyes wide open, and I think in general we have benefited from the airport more than we have been injured by the airport,” he says. After sales that began in late 1995, only 12 of the 556 lots at Cotton Ranch remain unsold.

Like many others, Garton considers the airport less obtrusive than the highway. A 37-year resident of East Vail, he recalls that Interstate 70 was quiet once but is now a constant din punctuated by blasts of jake brakes. A few airplanes, he says, are much preferable.

Could the airport in time become as overbearing as I-70 has become?

“I don’t think our little valley has the capacity to grow to that level,” he says. Others note that the airport is confined to just one runway.

‘Mixed blessing’

In Eagle, the airport is seen as with less favor. The town gets the noise from landing jets, and then gets a parade of cars, few of which stop for purchases. The lone positive is the jobs the airport provides, either directly at the airport or in a stronger upper-valley economy.

“We are the lone community in Eagle County for which the airport is a mixed blessing, or which may have more negative impacts than positive,” says Willy Powell, Eagle town manager.

Roxie Deane, Eagle’s outgoing mayor, reports few complaints about noise in winter, but more complaints during summer, even with only a few commercial flights so far. People in the 35 to 55 age bracket are most apt to complain.

Deane is somewhat leery of expanding summer flights, particularly if they go over what is now being called Old Eagle. After all, those homes were built before the airport, and hence should not have to be subjected to the incremental noise, she maintains.

One hope is that the new instrument landing system will allow pilots to follow I-70 until they get to the Eagle interchange then bank over the Eagle County Fairgrounds before landing. This would avoid going over all but a few houses.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration has the final say-so, and it’s not clear that will happen.

“I would not guarantee that the instrument landing system or the radar system will achieve that,” Stone says. “We’ve talked about it, but I don’t have anything from the Federal Aviation Administration that guarantees it.”

Rich Cunningham, the director of facilities management for Eagle County, reports that the altered flight path is under consideration as the system is being designed.

Stone said he is optimistic car traffic from the airport may decrease within four or five years, even if no funding for any road projects has been identified for at least 10 years. So far, $2 million has been allocated to the design of an interchange and access roads from I-70 straight to the airport

The interchange, he notes, will also be a boost for Gypsum’s tax base, as it is likely to also run straight to the town’s industrial park. Under Colorado’s Constitution, industrial and commercial buildings, unlike homes, can generate significant property taxes.


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