Complaints spur board to consider alternate ideas for airport security

Seen through the already erected part of the airport fence, employees of M & M Concrete protect the machinery for the new gate going in west of the intersection of Navigators Way and South Heritage Court on Friday.

Security gates slated to go up in September at the general aviation section of Grand Junction Regional Airport continue to raise hackles of some pilots and small-business owners there.

Several business owners have taken their complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration and passed those concerns along to local leaders and politicians about the construction of a fence they say will separate them from potential customers.

In response to the mounting anger about gated access to Aviators Way and Navigators Way, the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority Board is entertaining alternate ideas from a committee of board members and general aviation tenants. More recently, the airport board hired a consultant to review the airport’s security issues.

“I’ll try to provide some guidance and start working with the tenants,” said Jeffrey Price, an airport-security consultant and founder of Leading Edge Strategies in Arvada. “We’re hoping we can make everybody happy. I think the airport is open to the input. We’ll see if there’s a way we can all put our heads together.”

Crews currently are busy building a $3.6 million wildlife fence, funded by a grant from the FAA, that extends more than 40,000 linear feet around the perimeter of the airport. The fence at this point will not continue to an area in the north because that land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Officials are working to transfer the BLM land to the airport, but the process is ongoing.

Installing gated access to the general aviation section by using funds from the overall fencing projects helps the airport come into compliance with security requirements of the Transportation Security Administration, according to airport Manager Rex Tippetts.

The TSA said in a June 21 letter to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., the fence “is a decision of the airport and not a mandate by TSA,” according to Legislative Director Peter Heardling.

“However,” the letter continues, “TSA does agree installation of the fence will enable the airport to better control access to the air operations area used by the general aviation pilots.”

According to Tippetts, finding a balance with TSA regulations is tricky. The agency requires airports to submit their own security plans, but TSA officials don’t expressly outline how those plans should look. Over the years, Grand Junction airport officials submitted three plans in an attempt to comply with TSA requirements, ideas that would not as drastically hinder access to the general aviation section, only to have those ideas rejected. The TSA approved the most recent gated-access proposal as a way for the airport to come into compliance, Tippetts said.

“They tell you you have to control access, but they don’t really tell you how to do it,” he said.

Recent documentation by the TSA shows 110 deficiencies at the airport that include having people with access to the runway without being in possession of a security badge, or people not being able to account for a key to a door that exits onto the runway. The airport potentially could be fined up to $1.1 million for all of the deficiencies, and if the airport indicates it does not aim to come into compliance with TSA regulations, it could lose its ability to offer commercial aviation services to the general public, Tippetts said.

Issues arise with the estimated 47 access points or doors, windows and gates to the runways from the 117 hangars on the general aviation side, Airport Authority Chairman Tom LaCroix said.

Airport staff members and people who have access to runways, including pilots and business owners, obtain security badges.

Having keys or punching a code into a lock are antiquated systems that could more easily be breached, LaCroix said. However biometric access, which includes using fingerprinting or a person’s physical features to gain access, is not required.

“We have to know who has access. That’s our mandate,” LaCroix said of the board’s duty. “TSA is not mandating a fence; that is technically correct. But the fence makes the plan come into compliance.”

Col. Bill Marvel of the Rocky Mountain Wing of the Commemorative Air Force takes issue with the grant request submitted by Tippetts to the FAA. When asked in a question included in the grant application, Tippetts denied that a fence would cause a hardship for business owners at the airport.

Tippetts, however, countered Marvel’s claim by saying a lengthy comment period, including public meetings, about the wildlife fence did not attract protests from general aviation users and business owners.

Marvel and other general aviation users also argue a wildlife fence was not a required mandate. They question why grant dollars to build a fence to keep out wildlife are being used to fence in businesses at the airport.

Marvel has contacted city and county leaders, asking them to step into the fray. But, the airport is not supported by local tax dollars, and decisions there are handled solely by board members, some of whom are appointed by Mesa County commissioners and Grand Junction City Council members.

“We have provided ample evidence that the fence should be stopped,” Marvel said. “There is nobody in position of authority that can stop this project. It’s frustrating that nobody seems to be able to stand up and do the right thing.”

Meanwhile, finding an alternative to plans for gated access to Navigators Way and Aviators Way is proving difficult.

Collin Fay, owner and operator of Colorado Flight Center, is on the committee to consider alternatives. He owns two hangars and is a wing leader for the Rocky Mountain Commemorative Air Force Museum, entities that will be behind the gates and affected by the proposed changes.

Fay said committee members have proposed a couple of ideas, including placing a fence across the taxiway on the east end. That alternative would be costly, about $650,000, and other security fixes are estimated at less than $50,000. For example, people who have security clearance could access keypad locks similar to what real estate agents use to show homes to prospective buyers.

Those alternatives, however, would not be covered by the grant, meaning the tenants would have to pay for the security fixes out of their own pockets, and they all would have to institute the same measures.

According to a sampling of airport tenants, most said they would be in favor of paying some of their own money to bolster security on their own properties.

The Airport Authority Board cannot by law contribute airport money to help tenants bolster security on their properties. The airport board has proposed offering to pay the cost of several security badges for workers and volunteers at the CAF museum and the Civil Air Patrol. Badges for authorized personnel to enter the gates will cost $125.

So far, Fay said, Airport Authority Board members on the committee have downplayed alternative options.

“I don’t see the current board members considering any of our suggestions,” he said.

A heated Airport Authority Board meeting Tuesday night attracted about two-dozen tenants and small-business owners who pleaded with board members to consider alternatives to the gated access.

Board member Denny Granum said he is supportive of general aviation businesses and the services they offer, including to him as a pilot.

“I don’t want these guys to go out of business,” he said. “Hopefully we can come up with solutions to relieve some of this. We live in a different world since 9/11. Part of what we deal with is TSA putting on more security. It’s part of what we deal with in today’s environment.”


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