Mayor softens threats against airport

Grand Junction Mayor Tom Kenyon is backing down on threats to impose sanctions against the Grand Junction Regional Airport if changes in management and policy aren’t made.

The demands, outlined in a letter drafted at the end of December from Kenyon and the Grand Junction City Council, were addressed to Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland. The letter had not been forwarded to the Grand Junction Regional Airport or its Airport Authority Board because Kenyon said he now thinks a solution to the fencing controversy that has hemmed in general aviation tenants may soon be solved.

“There may be an opportunity to consider making some changes,” Kenyon said about the fence around Grand Junction’s general aviation hangars.

Grand Junction Regional Airport installed a wildlife fence around the perimeter of the airport, and security gates were later added at the entrances of Aviators Way and Navigators Way, which access the general aviation section.

Those tenants, some of whom run businesses, have protested that the gates hinder public access, but the airport contended the fencing project and security gates were the only option the Transportation Security Administration allowed as acceptable to provide security to the runways.

West Star Aviation General Manager Rick Brainard said he had an idea to make the general aviation section of the airport more accessible for tenants, but he wasn’t ready to share his plan Friday. That information might come in the next two or three weeks, he said.

“We have been pretty silent on all the nonsense at the airport, but this has gone on too long, and we want to try to help,” he said. “We’re going to come up with alternative solutions. I think there’s one that I’m pretty sure will work.”

West Star, which serves as the airport’s fixed-base operator, is the largest tenant on the general aviation section of the airport, but it is not gated off by the new fence. West Star completed its own measures to comply with safety regulations.

After a series of packed City Council meetings that included mostly general aviation tenants who were irate about airport management, the fencing, entertainment expenses incurred by the airport director and the current hangar-leasing policy, council members promised to look further into the issue.

Kenyon’s letter, dated Dec. 30, demanded the Airport Authority board find a way to keep the gates open and requested access to all notes and information compiled by a “fence committee” about options that were considered in solutions to the fence.

The letter also said the airport’s director, Rex Tippetts, “is not held in high regard,” and it requested that if he is not removed, the Airport Authority consider hiring a general aviation manager. The letter also requests a full audit of the airport’s finances and suggests the City Council would not sign off on any future grant applications from the airport if changes weren’t made to better accommodate general aviation tenants.

After a closed-door meeting Friday involving at least Kenyon and Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis, Kenyon said he would back down from the demands. He said the city interfering with grants to the airport would be bad for economic development, and the Airport Authority should be tasked with whether Tippetts should remain at the helm. Kenyon is one of the city’s appointed members of the Airport Authority.

“He’s their employee. It’s probably not appropriate for city and county to weigh in,” Kenyon said. “There are a lot of people who want him gone, but as a public official and mayor, 95 percent of airport users are doing well. (The area is) prospering from the airport.”

Kenyon also said documentation of expense reports of money apparently spent by Tippetts should be passed along to the Airport Authority to investigate.

“If there’s something illegal or wrong, it’s their job to fix it,” Kenyon said.

The Airport Authority is attempting to communicate more widely about its actions after coming under scrutiny on several fronts. For example, the airport is taking comments until Jan. 27 on the first round of a new proposal for a hangar-lease policy. Tenants had complained the current policy is inconsistent for leaseholders.

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Do Colorado’s Sunshine laws allow for Kenyon and Meis to meet behind closed doors? Just asking.

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