There have been some comments by the candidates for the Paonia Board of Trustees and mayor, to the effect that "if the North Fork Valley Airport is not making money, then sell it." As a resident of Delta County, but not of Paonia, I have been closely associated with the North Fork Valley Airport since I moved here almost 17 years ago, and currently have a hangar at the airport. I feel the citizens would benefit from some background information concerning the airport.
According to an excellent article in the DCI last fall, the airport was established by the Town of Paonia in 1947 on 148 acres surrounding the mesa southwest of town, formerly owned by the Pinneo family. In 1962, the town passed an ordinance to transfer a one quarter undivided interest each to the towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss and Delta County. Only Delta County accepted, and on March 7, 1962, the transfer to Delta County was duly recorded. No funds were exchanged for the transfer.
In 1962, according to Don Foster, founder of Paonia State Bank, the Paonia Chamber of Commerce and the town worked with the contractor on the Paonia and Crawford dams to utilize equipment and resources idled between the two projects to move 32,000 yards of material to fill and extend the mesa and runway. His recollection is the town was responsible for only labor and fuel. Later, using war surplus equipment from the county, the runway was graveled. A county project in the late 1970s filled another area and allowed the runway to be extended to the west end of the mesa. Eventually the runway was paved and over the years has been improved to its current layout.
In 1969, a sales tax resolution passed by the county created the funding and operating mechanisms for the two airports, Blake and North Fork, police and fire communication system, landfills and libraries. Initially the county was responsible for 100 percent of matching funds for capital improvements, and now the split is 75 percent town, 25 percent county. Management and operation of the airports is still a county function.
A search of the town records by Dave Weber, a former trustee, utilized computerized minutes from 1978 and found only one town contribution to the airport of $1,200 in 1980, for the large maintenance hangar. Up until the present time, the county has covered the cost of matching funds for all capital improvements on the airport. CDOT Aeronautics Division has contributed extensive funding for capital improvements over the years, which when combined with matching funds from the county, have paved and maintained the runway, installed game and security fencing, installed runway and landing lights, added self-fueling capability, and in the last two years provided a large state grant to expand taxiway, tie down and hangar area to more fully utilize the facility. The town has yet to contribute any matching funds.
In 2012, the Colorado Pilots Association designated the airport as the outstanding general aviation airport in the State of Colorado. The Colorado Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics estimated the annual economic impact to the local economy to be about $54,000, which with the multiplier effect factored in, becomes $239,000. The ongoing hangar leases and property taxes benefit the local governments.
The revenue stream is not a full measure of the value of the airport. The airport has been extensively utilized by the coal companies in the past to fly personnel and materials essential to the operations of the mines, as a base for Flight for Life, and especially for fire suppression and emergency access.
For the local and regional pilots who utilize the airport, many were persuaded to relocate because of the valuable asset the airport is to the community. For some local businesses the airport provides easy access to larger metropolitan areas necessary for the conduct of their endeavors. And some, myself included, are passionate about aviation, and the airport provides a most delightful gateway in pursuing that end.