The scourge of Longmont’s Vance Brand Airport, its prairie dogs not its vocal pilots, are now national news. FoxNews did a piece called “Cute, Cuddly Menace”.
In the piece the sum of “quarter of a million dollars” was mentioned, but in all reality it’s much higher. Over the years, Longmont has accepted over $3 million from the Airport Improvement Program, a fact the U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration reminded the city of in an April 8, 2009 document. (Full disclosure, I am an employee of the DOT/FAA, but not from this branch and have no impact on this matter). The document further states:
“By doing so (accepting grants), the airport sponsor is obligated to adhering to 39 grant assurances. These grant assurances are in place to help ensure that the airport operates in a safe, fair and reasonable manner for public use. Grant Assurance # 19, Operation and Maintenance, states:
“The airport and all facilities which are necessary to serve the aeronautical users of the airport, other than facilities owned or controlled by the United States, shall be operated at all times in a safe and serviceable condition and is accordance with the minimum standards as may be required or prescribed by applicable Federal, state and local agencies for maintenance and operation. It will not cause or permit any activity or action thereon which would interfere with is use for airport purposes.”
If the safety and maintenance conditions are not being satisfied, the airport could be in violation of their federal grant assurances and could jeopardize future federal funding at Vance Brand Airport. In order to remain in compliance and receive federal funding, please provide our office with a corrective action plan to address the prairie dog concerns and ensure a safe operating area for all aeronautical users at the airport. We will review your corrective action plan and provide any comments and concerns back to you in an effort to create an acceptable solution to our safety concerns. At a minimum, the plan must demonstrate that all airfield safety and landing areas are completely clear of prairie dog holes, if any airport land designated for the prairie dogs is needed for aeronautical purposes all prairie dogs within that area must be removed, and finally, if the corrective measures fail to keep the airport areas clear and safe,the city must agree to remove all prairie dogs from the airport if the airport is to continue receiving federal funding.
After this letter, at a City Council meeting, some council members and their “activist” (as FoxNews put them) friends weren’t quite getting the seriousness of the issue. For my readers not familiar with this city, and I’m sure it’s not unique to Longmont, this city council has a knack for endless procrastination. They often fund studies and hand pick advisory board members – only to ignore or punt any decisions as far into the future as possible, wasting lots of city funds and staff and volunteer hours.
On May 12th, the DOT/FAA wrote the city another letter and put things fairly bluntly with ultimatums:
• The previous fenced enclosure failed to keep the prairie dogs completely contained. Therefore, we must have language added to the corrective action plan stating that the City of Longmont will completely remove all of the prairie dogs from airport property if the new fence fails to contain them.
• It is possible that the proposed containment area will attract birds of prey. If there are any safety concerns resulting from this containment area, the City of Longmont will completely remove all prairie dogs from airport property.
• Please add a statement to paragraph #1 which states that if the new proposed containment area is needed for aeronautical use / development, the fence will be taken down and all prairie dogs will be removed from airport property.
While this issue is not on the May 19 agenda, with all this attention it may come up. Perhaps the city council will take this a little more seriously. Perhaps not. Perhaps they don’t care if they are out of compliance with the Federal government, they are the mighty City of Longmont after all. And now the rest of the world knows what we have to deal with here – one embarrassment after another. If you would like to see this council in all its glory, I invite you to look at the Video section of the city’s website where the recent and relevent meetings are archived at this link.