Critics, fans and deep thinkers came Tuesday afternoon to voice their views concerning the Durango-La Plata County Airport expansion plans.
The Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners delayed selecting an option for airport expansion to seek more public input.
Officials are considering renovating the terminal, building a new terminal next to the existing one or building a terminal on the east side of the runway.
While reactions were mixed, many people agreed improvements need to be made to improve baggage claim, expand parking and create more space for employees to work.
“If we do not continue to be progressive, we’ll be having the same conversation at a greater cost,” said David Rice, a general aviation pilot.
A more modest version of the plan to build on the east side of the runway has garnered the most attention and brought the most praise and skepticism from residents who spoke for nearly two hours.
The $85.4 million plan could build a terminal double the size of the current one and create more parking spaces for cars and planes. But it would meet the needs of only current airport traffic.
Similar scaled-back plans for the other two options also would be far less expensive. Renovation could be $63 million, and a new building on the west side could be $61 million.
However, if the airport continues to grow, investment on the west side could be much more expensive in later phases then the east side. Making the right investment was a continuous theme with the crowd.
“Don’t come back to me in 2035 and ask for money and say you’re sorry you didn’t do it right the first time,” said Jodi Doney, an airline employee.
But the vision for the airport varied greatly.
Several business-minded people hammered the importance of the airport’s impact on the tourism industry.
“We have to make this improvement to the airport for the economic stability today and for the future,” said Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
While several others urged commissioners to make sure they are making the most of the existing infrastructure.
“The infrastructure we have there should be invested in,” Michelle Reott said.
Financing the airport also was a hot topic.
The Federal Aviation Administration could give the airport project $35 to $40 million.
A possible property-tax increase could go before the voters. To finance $40 million in debt, the county projects a homeowner with a $300,000 home could pay about $36 a year.
Residents asked officials to look at a mix of financing options, not just property taxes.
They also requested officials take into consideration all the public projects that the city and county need. The county is considering asking for a property-tax increase to fund bridge and road projects and other needs.
Meanwhile, the city is asking for a half-cent sales-tax increase and taking on $55 million in wastewater-treatment plant upgrades.
“I think we need to look at the whole picture,” Durango resident John Byrd said.
After nearly two hours of public comments, La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake was the only one to voice a strong opinion.
He said he would like the consultants to more fully explore moving the airport to the east side.
The commissioners will discuss the issue during a business meeting March 10 and again March 12 with city councilors.
This story has been corrected to reflect the correct day of the meeting.