Airports and activists: Question motives, agenda of airport detractors

For the record, I am a member of the Airport Advisory Board, but let’s get one thing perfectly clear:  I did not waive my First Amendment rights when I was appointed to this board.  And some of the things that Citizens Against Runway Expansion, or CARE, are saying about the airport Master Plan must be addressed.

I recently sent an email to Longmont City Council and staff about the role of our board and other groups, including CARE.  It was subsequently misconstrued by the CARE spokesman at the 8/10/10 city council meeting.  He called it “divisive”, but stating simple facts doesn’t make something divisive.  I voiced concern about a group, made up in large part of non-Longmont residents, inserting themselves into a situation beyond what City Council voted for.

Members of our board, and every other advisory board, serve at the pleasure of the City Council, who are elected by citizens of the City of Longmont, not Unincorporated Boulder or Weld County.  I never said we won’t listen to others, and I have received and answered emails from people outside the city on airport matters.  But the residents of Longmont come first, although at least one CARE member said non-Longmont residents should be “held in equal weight”.  I disagree.  I wasn’t appointed by Boulder or Weld County Commissioners, and this is a city owned airport, not county.

I also find CARE’s logo offensive.  It would be one thing to have a runway, or even the skydiving airplane they object to so much, with a red slash through it.  But they have a silhouette of a Boeing 747 as their intended target.  While both runways and airplanes are inanimate objects, an airplane is only relevant if it’s doing its intended mission – carrying people, usually lots of people (or cargo).  In addition, these CARE members know that airliners are not coming to Longmont if this extension is approved.  The runway may get longer, but it isn’t getting any thicker to accommodate these kinds of airplanes.

At the July 27, 2010 City Council meeting I heard blatant falsehoods and ignorance of airports, airplanes, and the Master Plan process from CARE members.  My favorite was that jets were now going to dump fuel on the city prior to landing.  Absolutely ludicrous.  For their effort, they got 1 vote in their favor from city council (from the often befuddled Sean McCoy), 6 other council members voted to approve the funding for the Master Plan, which will include a study on a runway extension.  That doesn’t mean there will be a runway extension, nor does City Council have to approve one at the end of the process.

They also complained that the airport will hurt property values, but on the other hand they gave examples of how the median home price in Longmont is $250,000 but that the homes around the airport average $387,000.  The airport has been there for several decades, whereas these homes and residents have not.  By their own account, it sounds like the airport has probably helped their home values.

But it appears they are more interested in whipping up the population with Armageddon-like predictions if the airport grows, and are taking noise complaining to a near hysterical level.  They claim it’s an accepted and guaranteed fact that noise will increase.  This is false.  Newer, smaller jets are quieter than many piston/turboprop aircraft, and they don’t tend to loiter over the city or do touch-and-go’s.  But this is one of those inconvenient facts for CARE as it doesn’t fit with their agenda.

What’s worse is that they really don’t want to hear voices that disagree with theirs.  I was told this by residents who attended a recent CARE meeting at the library.  Yet CARE calls for openness and transparency from everyone else.  Members of this group have been rude and hostile to at least one city council member, saying she (Katie Witt) can’t talk about airplane noise, while others who live down the street from her or even farther from the airport can.  Not only does Ms. Witt represent the ward where the airport sits, she also lives in it.  Not to mention she, along with the other 6 council members, will be the final vote on this issue.

Contrary to what CARE members have stated, we are only at the beginning of this process and everyone will get a chance to be heard.  No one gets hoodwinked into a runway extension unless they just aren’t paying attention.  Like CARE, I also encourage people to get informed and involved.

A quality education on the subject wouldn’t hurt either.

Below is the email that started it all
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Mayor Baum, members of City Council and Staff,
As a member of the Airport Advisory Board, I’d like to know – or remind council and the public – of our role in the upcoming Master Plan process.  Are all airport related items to be picked over before they come to us by this proposed “Citizens Advisory Committee“?

You recently heard about 2 hours of comments about the airport expansion, some of which was factually inaccurate, and you voted 6-1 to approve the FAA funding of the Master Plan – INCLUDING the option for a runway extension.  By reading the memo in your 8/10 package, it appears this CAC, which will include “CARE”, who is against the runway extension, will have the first crack at the Master Plan before the AAB does.  Doesn’t that seem a little backwards?  Or is a group, which in large part is made up of non-Longmont residents, have precedent over an advisory board of City Council appointed Longmont residents?

But the motion that Councilmember Levison made needs to be made clear to all involved, as it appears it was taken quite differently than stated.  In an email by CARE’s representative David Hignite, he said “Based on Councilwoman’s Sarah Levison’s motion and subsequent approval by City Council (6-1) at the 07/27/2010 City Council meeting, a CARE representative was to have a “seat” at the Airport Master Plan scope meetings with city staff.”

This was not the motion.  The motion, and I quote, was “MOVE THAT WE HAVE A MEMBER OF THAT ACTIVIST GROUP THAT’S BEEN FORMED, ASKED TO JOIN WITH STAFF AND THE AIRPORT ADVISORY BOARD TO WORK ON THIS GRANT PROPOSAL TO THE FAA.”  She then added “The group quickly chose 1 person to come to the meetings and be part of the process, help disseminate the information.”  The “process” was the grant proposal.  The “dissemination” was to CARE members.  Watch/listen to the meeting and this is clear.

Personally, I think this CAC is a waste of people’s time and effort.  None of you were on council during the last Master Plan process, so maybe you aren’t familiar with how it goes, or how it went.  It was obvious that the people speaking at council that night had no idea of how the process moves.  There are no secret meetings, there is no hidden agenda from the public.  Everyone who wants to be heard gets heard, their comments are all part of the public record.  This includes all of the entities who would be part of this CAC.  The misconception put out that night was that the consultant was also a developer and would somehow benefit from a runway extension.  This is complete nonsense.

The consultant will take input from all interested parties, including the AAB and the public at several public meetings, and present a Master Plan.  The City Council can then decide what to keep and delete from it, which is exactly what occurred last time.  Last time the sitting council decided against a runway extension, even though the AAB endorsed it and it was in the proposed Master Plan.  Unfortunately, some in the public have come to the false conclusion that if it’s in the Master Plan it’s a done deal and the Council has to accept it – no line item veto.  Again, this is false.

But first we have to have a Master Plan for the AAB, the CAC, and the public to debate – we are not even close, we haven’t even started.  By listening to the public comment so far, you’d think we are ready to pour concrete.  We are years from that even if you as a council approve a Master Plan with a runway extension.  There will be lots of time to publicly discuss this issue and very likely it will be a campaign issue in 2011, possibly even the 2013 City Council elections.  Transparency will not be a problem.  No one gets hoodwinked into a runway extension, unless they just aren’t paying attention.

I believe in saying what you mean and meaning what you say.  So I’d like the motion to mean exactly how it was stated and voted on – not perhaps what Ms. Levison meant, or what members of CARE think it should be.

Regards, Chris Rodriguez

About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.
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