Community leaders must rally for airport

We can’t predict what the outcome will be of the federal investigation into management at the Grand Junction Regional Airport, although the FBI is hardly known for engaging in detailed searches on a whim. There is usually some fire beneath the smoke.

If criminal activity did occur, then those involved must be charged and prosecuted.

But that doesn’t mean the community should suddenly shy away from the airport as if it were filled with toxic waste. It is too important to this area’s economy, important in meeting the needs of both business and nonbusiness travelers and in moving freight.

In fact, now, more than ever, the airport needs community leaders such as those from the city and the county to step up and make it clear they back the airport, both morally and financially. They must display proactive leadership, not stand-on-the-sidelines, hope-for-the-best passivity.

That’s because the criminal investigation at the airport is threatening to negatively affect the airport’s credit rating, and that could prove disastrous for projects currently in the works and for future efforts to improve or expand facilities at the airport.

As The Daily Sentinel’s Greg Ruland reported Wednesday, Moody’s Investor Service issued an advisory this week, warning that Grand Junction Regional Airport could lose up to $77 million in federal grants unless it makes every effort to recover any funds that may have been lost to fraud.

Additionally, although Moody’s didn’t specifically warn of a possible downgrade in the airport’s existing Baa2 credit rating, a spokesman for the company did acknowledge that if the airport lost its federal grants, that could cause the company to lower its credit rating for the airport.

Such an occurrence, in all likelihood, would halt a planned expansion of Wes tStar Aviation that is anticipated to bring 150 new jobs to the area over the next few years. The West Star project is dependent on the airport selling bonds to pay for the construction of an $8 million new painting hangar, which would then be leased to West Star.

The cancellation of that project would be a huge loss for the community. That, combined with a downgraded credit rating and the loss of federal grants, would undoubtedly make it harder to recruit new businesses to the airport or to obtain funds for future improvements.

That’s why it’s so important for city and county leaders to show this community has the airport’s back, regardless of whether someone was engaged in criminal activity.

They must be prepared to use funds like the city’s ample reserve, if need be, to see through West Star’s expansion and even make restitution for any lost funds. And they must let Moody’s and federal authorities know that the airport will remain a thriving center of commerce, regardless of what the criminal investigation determines.


COMMENTS

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Community leaders need to wait for the investigation to run its course.  “Rallying for the airport” if fraud was committed is a non-starter.  “Having the airport’s back” is similarly silly if someone in management capacity at the airport committed fraud.

The community does not need to support lawlessness.

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