Executive session scheduled a day before final review
Pitkin County elected officials are meeting behind closed doors today to get legal advice on a master plan that will guide the expansion of the Aspen airport over the next two decades before it goes to a final review on Wednesday.
Last month, the Board of Pitkin County Commissioners (BOCC) initially approved the plan, which is projected to cost about $260 million. The master plan accounts for the anticipated rise in annual enplanements, or the number of passengers boarding an aircraft. Enplanements are expected to increase from an estimated 229,984 this year to 250,452 in 2017, a jump of about 9 percent, according to an aviation activity forecast. The plan sets aside space for a $121 million new terminal of up to 80,000 square feet, a new fixed-based operation along Owl Creek Road and a 750-space underground parking garage. The master plan is a placeholder for future development of Sardy Field, and specific pieces of it will be vetted further when it’s determined how much demand and community support there is for them.
Commissioners recently requested that they go into executive session to discuss the legal implications of approving the plan, said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely. Ely declined to elaborate on what specifically would be discussed, but he said seeking legal advice on a project of this magnitude is warranted.
Commissioner Michael Owsley said the executive session was taking place because the board has outstanding legal questions for Dan Reimer, an attorney for the Federal Aviation Administration who’s working with county officials on the master plan.
When asked whether the issues discussed could impact the outcome of Wednesday’s potential vote, Owsley said he didn’t know.
“It’s an executive session,” Owsley said. “I really don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
Colorado state law allows public bodies to go into executive session for potential land acquisitions, pending or possible litigation, discussing strategy relative to ongoing negotiations, personnel matters, or on topics required to be kept confidential by federal or state law.
Over the past two years, the board has gone into a handful of executive sessions related to the airport master plan, said Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Owsley and Richards agreed that the fact that the session was taking place the day before the project’s final review was likely a product of scheduling conflicts with earlier executive session dates.
The master plan passed its first reading in November by a 4-1 vote, despite reservations about how the plan could affect riparian areas near Owl Creek, increase traffic and impact a historic ranch on the property, among other concerns. Commissioner Jack Hatfield dissented, saying he didn’t believe there was a need for that much development at the airport.
After more than two years and dozens of public meetings, the project will go before the county board on Wednesday for final review, which will include a public hearing. At the meeting, the board will review the airport’s future layout and a final presentation on the project. If it passes, the plan will need the blessing of the FAA.
In today’s executive session, commissioners also will discuss property negotiations regarding Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale, that is a part of a proposed land swap with the Bureau of Land Management.