Airport board to reach out to prosecutors
The Grand Junction Regional Airport’s governing board approved making an overture to federal investigators aimed at clearing the airport’s reputation.
The Airport Authority board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to seek an agreement with federal prosecutors that would result in recognition that the board was operating according to applicable law.
The hope is “to remove any cloud from the airport,” said Rick Wagner, who serves with Paul Nelson on the Airport Authority’s special litigation committee, which was launched after the FBI raided the airport’s offices last November and carted away boxes of documents in what was said to be a fraud investigation.
The airport board later fired Rex Tippetts, the director of aviation, and last month stopped construction on an administration building that was to be financed using Federal Aviation Administration money.
The agreement the authority hopes to reach would cover only the authority itself, but no individuals.
Among the findings of the authority’s own investigation was that the purpose of the administration building, then referred to as a terminal building, was misidentified in an apparent effort to garner FAA money for its construction. Similarly, several rooms in the building itself appeared to have been mischaracterized for the same purpose. An area in the basement was labeled for baggage handling, but officials said later it couldn’t possibly have been used for that purpose.
The airport turned back federal money it had received for the new building, but was unable to make arrangements to complete the job. The FAA also changed the airport’s risk assessment for grant purposes from “nominal” to “moderate.”
The goal of opening direct talks with prosecutors is to gain recognition by the U.S. Department of Justice that the authority is operating within the law, Wagner said, acknowledging that it would be difficult to salvage the airport’s reputation with the FAA without such an agreement.
The authority is trying to resolve issues “with all the levels of government we have to interact with,” Nelson said, “plus the public.” Having put the authority’s house in order to the point that it can now seek an agreement with prosecutors is “a watershed moment for us,” Wagner said.
Construction on the administration building, meanwhile, remained halted and the board agreed to several measures, including accepting the elevator that was constructed for it, because to do otherwise would be more costly than having the maker store it until construction begins anew.