GJ Airport tenants say fence caused business to fly away

By: Kelly Asmuth Email
By: Kelly Asmuth Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Controversy has taken off at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. A second perimeter fence built for safety, is now the target of a possible lawsuit.

Monument Aircraft has now landed its repair hangar at the Mack Mesa Airport. Owner Dana Brewer says the new security gate at Grand Junction Regional Airport has not only fenced out animals and terror threats, but his customers too, when he was located there.

"It obviously affected the clientele that was going to come to me. They explicitly said that they were not interested in coming and dealing with the security measures that were being induced at the airport," says Brewer.

That measure was a $3.4 million, federally funded fence that surrounds the airport, encompassing small plane hangar businesses.

Airport Director Rex Tippetts says, the FAA and TSA left no choice.

"It was required because the FAA branch required it be done," says Tippetts.

In an FAA Wildlife Assessment, the fence was cited as a long term solution to keeping out animals and was also brought up in an initial letter by federal officials. However, the study doesn't list the fence in its final recommendations. Some tenants argue that the fence being absent in the recommendations, reveals it as a maneuver by the airport.

By the end of last November, the wildlife fence, which now doubles as a security control, was locked. Airport tenants now escort customers to and from the swipe-card gate. They say this makes doing business impractical.

Tri Star Aviation has since put its hangar up for sale. The EAA, a non-profit aviation group that also teaches kids to fly, took off to Mack Mesa Airport, as well.

In a previous interview with KKCO 11 News, Colorado Airlines feared its future would nose dive.

"It's going to bankrupt our company if that gate goes in. If we can't have access, we're out of business," said Colorado Airlines Owner Ron Rouse in a July interview with KKCO.

Ron Rouse, who says he was depressed to go on camera again, partially blames the fence for his company's closure.

Fence opponents have voiced their anger to the Grand Junction city council, saying that while the TSA approved the fence, other measures could have been approved.

In a statement to KKCO 11 news, the TSA responded:

"TSA did not require the airport to install the new fence, but supports the action as a way to meet security goals."

"Well, they did require it. They don't tell you how to comply, is how they issue it. They say these are the requirements. These are the regulations, but they don't tell you how to comply," says Tippetts.

Montrose Regional Airport recently built a similar fence, under TSA approval. However, it doesn't block off hangar operators, like Blake Freeland's clients at Cimarron Air.

"They can drive right up to it, same way you came driving up. There was no problem," Freeland explained.

The TSA says comparing different airports may not be feasible, and declined a request by KKCO 11 News to examine the security plan, because it is classified as sensitive information.

The Grand Junction Regional Airport director and Airport Authority Board members say they did explore other options. One idea, they say, was to fence out the hangars, excluding them from the air operations area, or runways that must be secured. A remote-controlled gate would have been the only way for private planes to taxi in. "It just was one of the ones that was eliminated because of cost and the practicality of implementing it," says Tippetts.

However, the airport can't produce dated documents that prove when those alternatives were discussed. "We have been talking and holding meetings since 2009," says Tippetts.

The airport's website show dates and sign-in sheets of meetings. However, tenants say they were left out of decisions regardless, and say they were dictated to, rather than asked for input.

"Nothing I could say or do had any affect on their decision making, so I didn't want to stay at a place where I didn't have any input," says Brewer.

"The airport is operated and governed and developed for the benefit of the entire Mesa Community in the Grand Valley. It's not operated for the benefit of a few," says Tippetts.

For the second time, a committee of airport tenants and other officials has been formed to hash out the contention over the fence. They say they're going to assess whether other options are viable in keeping customer access to the hangars open. The City has also discussed offering a portion of the funding to fix the problem. Meantime, the Grand Junction Users and Tenants Association continues to consider legal action against the airport.


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