Tag Archive for Airport Master Plan

Scepticism exists over economic benefit of airport runway extension

The following was addressed to Longmont City Council on March 14,2011, in response to the presentation of the final three chapters of the Airport Master Plan. This Airport Master Plan is controversial because of the inclusion of a runway extension at Vance Brand Airport. In addition, an ongoing controversy exists over the noise generated by Mile-Hi Skydiving by their dawn to dusk operation during good weather.

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport 11-2-2011

I would like to comment on the airport master plan and urge you to remove the runway extension from the plan. I believe the runway extension will increase airplane traffic and result in more environmental impacts, especially noise.

A major justification for the airport expansion is that it will create jobs. Chapter 8 of the master plan, titled “Airport Economic Impacts” summarizes the economic benefits of the airport on the region’s economy.

For example, “In 2010 the airport supported an estimated 257 jobs in Colorado that earned a total of $5.3 million.” First, these jobs are not necessarily in Longmont. And second, if you do the math that works out to an average salary of $20,622 annually. The scope of the master plan is limited and does not provide any context for these figures.

Chapter 8 devotes a lot of attention to Mile-Hi Skydiving Center – as they are one of the top two employers. The report states “In 2010, the payroll and benefits at each of these companies exceeded $100,000.” Is that a lot? Does the economic benefit justify the cost to the community of living under a blanket of noise? Let’s put the $100,000 payroll in perspective.

For comparison, Chapter 8 mentions a few specific companies in Longmont – IBM, Seagate, Intel and Amgen. These companies employ skilled workers. The average salary for a software engineer is about $100,000 – for one employee. A healthy economy relies on a diverse employment base, but higher salaries generate a bigger impact within the local economy.

Consider also the new Covidien Research and Innovation Center located in Gunbarrel. Covidien employs 1,800 skilled workers locally. They chose to locate in Boulder County because “The culture of innovation here is second to none.” These are the businesses that will lead to economic prosperity. They don’t require being next door to an airport and they don’t rely on government subsidies to remain viable.

The way to build a strong economy in Longmont is by providing a high quality of life, and attracting manufacturing and high-tech companies – not by extending the runway.

A whole lotta lyin’ goin’ on

It's a sucker's game

Longmont is due for an Airport Master Plan update. These occur every five to seven years and the last time Longmont’s plan was updated occurred in 2004. Having an update is not the source of the most recent Longmont controversy that has all the makings of the next LifeBridge-style dust-up. The argument has been threefold:

  • What should be covered in the updated Master Plan or in supplemental analyses?
  • Who gets a seat at the table and will opponents have a voice equal to supporters?
  • Is this study nothing more than cover for a decision to extend the runway that has already been made?

I don’t especially have a dog in this fight. I like airplanes and I’ve flown in several types of aircraft. I’ve flown in large commercial jets of varying sizes and I’ve flown in 10-seater business commercial jets, of the type that are imagined if the Longmont runway is extended. I’ve flown in four-seater prop planes. And I’ve even flown in a glider and a World War II plane used to lift the glider to the wind current. I thoroughly enjoy takeoffs and landings.

Two of the homes that I lived in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles were under the flight path to Burbank Airport. The home in the West Valley was no problem. I didn’t even notice – except when a jet was coming in heavy with the tell-tale whine that always made me wonder if the plane was in trouble. Living in the home in the East Valley which was closer to Burbank Airport, however, posed persistent noise issues – whether inside or out. It strained nerves and made it hard to hear. Fortunately, I’m a sound sleeper, but my mother wasn’t.

So I have empathy for those in Longmont who have huge issues with the skydivers, dread the addition of jets, albeit small ones, and even more are livid that Mile-Hi Skydiving has plans for yet another sky diving craft. On any number of scales, it’s a quality of life issue that impacts many over an economic issue that is has all the trappings of a pipe dream.

Beyond the merits of the issue itself is something that should bother all Longmont residents whether or not they live in an area that will be most affected by any expansion.

The City of Longmont is playing something of a shell game on this issue. To put it another way: A whole lotta lyin’ is goin’ on over the Airport Master Plan and the ultimate outcome.

In spite of what certain council members are saying on camera at council meetings, there is a majority that has already made up its individual minds. That majority is Mayor Bryan Baum and Council Members Katie Witt, Gabe Santos, and Alex Sammoury. They deny it, but an Open Records Request by CARE (Citizens Against Runway Extension) revealed otherwise – not to mention a number of meetings earlier this year where a runway extension was promoted to groups in the vicinity of the airport by none other than the Mayor Baum and Ms. Witt. Baum doesn’t like being cornered so he’ll try to bully his way out of this, as he’s done before.

Mayor Baum and Council Member Witt undoubtedly thought they were getting out ahead of any problems and planned to grease the skids in favor of an extension in hopes of clear sailing. Flawed strategy and flawed judgment call.

And as far as city staff, here’s how that works. Index fingers get raised in the wind to determine its direction and the weather report is given accordingly. What is not welcome is either omitted or spun towards favorability. After all, there are jobs to be protected, especially in today’s market. It wouldn’t be prudent to offend Power. Firings and instructions to fire can hurt.

The FAA, already charged with facilitating expansion of airports, will be giving “cover” to a council who has already boarded this flight.

Until and unless Mayor Baum releases a list of businesses who (A) did not come to Longmont because its airport runway was too short, and (B) will come to Longmont when it has a longer runway, it’s all just wind and the turbulence is justified. Numbers have been thrown around, but they never have names attached to them. It begs the question, do they even exist.

Presumably John Cody of the Longmont Area Economic Council would know who these companies are – if they exist. I challenge him to name names – all of them. It’s time for him to put up or shut up and cease pretending that this information is confidential.

Whether council, staff or LAEC, this issue is too important to too many residents for them to accept “Trust me” as an answer.

This new council, whose majority I refer to as The Baum Squad, has an agenda. They will carry it out and only pretend to be concerned about public sentiment. They like to say that they want to make Longmont “business friendly” or “open for business.” That’s a euphemism for saying that Longmont is For Sale – at foreclosure prices – for whatever business wants, business will get.