Longmont-area Residents Split on City’s Grant Applications for Airport Improvement Funds
Longmont has applied for two federal grants totaling $22.8 million in hopes of accelerating the start dates for two planned projects to improve Vance Brand Municipal Airport, that could now possibly begin as soon as this year.
The city’s move drew the ire of airport critics who oppose its expansion and have long complained of the noise generated by flights — especially those of the Mile-Hi Skydiving business — suffered by residents of neighborhoods nearby the facility.
But U.S. Rep. Ken Buck expressed his support for the city’s plans in a letter to Federal Aviation Administration last month, urging officials to approve Longmont’s funding requests.
Longmont has asked the FAA — which last year appropriated $2 billion in supplemental discretionary funding for smaller airports throughout the country for 2018 through 2020 — for $14 million to construct an extended runway, extend two taxiways and make land purchases necessary for the project and extend a vehicle service road, according to city news release Wednesday.
The city has also applied for an $8.8 million grant from the FAA to expedite its South Campus Development project, which includes improved utility infrastructure, taxi lane access, an aircraft parking apron, automobile access and parking, fencing and a welcome facility with airport manager offices, the release said.
Buck in his letter pointed out that Vance Brand’s runway currently is out of compliance with FAA standards for airports considered “high-altitude,” which Longmont Airport Manager David Slayter confirmed.
“Many aircraft that frequent Vance Brand contain turbo-prop and jet engines, which the current runway cannot support when these aircraft have full fuel tanks, forcing pilots to refuel at secondary stops,” Buck stated in the letter. “Aircraft are also restricted from operating during periods of high temperature.”
Applying for the grants aligns the city with a recommendation of an informal airport development committee that analyzed how to expedite investment in Vance Brand to make it a more business-friendly airport.
The committee — led by Longmont pilot Jeff Bowman, Airport Advisory Board Chariman Dale VanZant and Thomas Briggs, who helped lead the initial funding plans for Denver International Airport — shared its report with city council members last month.
“Business aviation currently avoids Vance Brand Airport,” the committee’s report stated, adding the current runway length, among other factors, is a big reason why. “Most of the potential revenue from this opportunity is going to other airports in the region.”
Slayter said the runway extension has been etched into the city’s long-term capital improvement plan for several years, but Longmont had been told by the FAA that funding may not be available for the project until 2027, or 2025, depending on the amount of money the city could contribute.
But critics of the airport are disappointed they were not given a chance to oppose sending the grant applications to the FAA, despite that the projects have been planned by the city for years and only placed on the backburner due to lack of financing.
“The decision by city of Longmont officials to request more than $22 million in FAA grants to expand the Longmont airport should be alarming to anyone who cares about environmental quality in Boulder County,” Gunbarrel resident and frequent Vance Brand critic Kimberly Gibbs said. “These FAA grants ... are handcuffs, preventing any local control over noise and other pollution regulations. The grants and resulting airport expansion will create an irreversible dumping ground of unregulated aviation noise and pollution.”
Buck wrote that Vance Brand is home base for 294 aircraft, includes 273 hangars and supports 75,000 takeoffs and landings annually.
The city could find out whether or not its grant application will be selected for funding by the feds anytime between now and 2020, Slayter said, and construction on the projects could start soon after receiving the money, if the city wins it.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/samlounz .