Airport users fume about security, TSA

Denny Granum, left, Tom LaCroix, center, and Morgan Hamon, members of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board, listen to general-aviation users during a meeting with Mesa County commissioners on Tuesday about security measures at the airport.

The battle over the new fence around part of Grand Junction Regional Airport has separated airport officials from the general-aviation tenants, one Mesa County commissioner concluded Tuesday.

“It’s to the point that Jesus Christ himself could come down and man the gate” at the entry into the general-aviation area of the airport, and tenants “wouldn’t be happy,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said during a 90-minute meeting that was attended by 20 general-aviation tenants and others at the old Mesa County Courthouse.

General-aviation users have complained for a year that the fence constructed around the south, west and east sides of the airport has driven off business without offering much in the way of a real assurance of security.

Airport board members, though, told the commission they were doing all they could despite being trapped between an unaccountable bureaucracy in the Transportation Security Administration and trying to accommodate the needs of their tenants.

Still, board member Denny Granum said, the airport has fallen short in one area.

“I don’t think the communication was done properly,” Granum said, referring to discussions about the fence with tenants. “I’ve got to think that goes back to management.”

Several tenants had voiced objections to the security plan, including repair and maintenance businesses and the company that ferries oil and gas workers from western Colorado to busy drilling locales around the nation.

Airport Manager Rex Tippetts has borne the brunt of criticism for construction of the fence, but board members said they have been frustrated by the TSA, which board member Morgan Hamon said the airport board doesn’t want to offend.

Defying the TSA could result in the federal agency shutting down commercial air service, and if that happens, “We’ll see it on CNN,” Hamon said. “Grand Junction will be a laughingstock.”

Problems at the airport run deeper than communication issues, said David Shepard, a general-aviation user.

“That’s just a euphemistic way of saying that there’s a trust and confidence issue” in airport management, Shepard said.

Grand Junction Regional Airport already has an unwanted reputation with the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association as having the “most draconian” security system in the United States, Shepard said.

Montrose Regional Airport hasn’t taken the kinds of steps that Grand Junction has, “and the TSA has not applied the death penalty to them,” Shepard said.

Shepard urged the county to back an effort to force the TSA to take a position on airport security, one that will give authorities a better sense of exactly what the federal agency wants.

Shepard criticized the structure of the airport authority during a meeting earlier this month, contending it insulates the management from direct supervision.

Rowland and Commissioners Steve Acquafresca and Craig Meis, however, said they had no interest in changing the structure, in which the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County have equal voices in the airport via appointments to the authority board.


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