Passengers were unloading luggage at Riverton Regional Airport on Saturday. (Ernie Over photo)
Part three of three parts
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission, through Commissioner Larry Allen, put a shot across the bow of the Riverton Regional Airport Board and the City of Riverton last Friday. Allen told the board that if they did not become more aggressive with Great Lakes Airlines to solve its flight reliability issues at the Riverton airport, county funding could be in jeopardy.
Fremont County currently contributes $95,000 to the operation of the airport, which is down from previous years. The City of Riverton owns and operates the airport which has an annual operating budget of $645,741 plus a capital construction budget that this year is $1.6 million. Most of the capital funding, however, comes from grants with 10 percent from the city. Due to the cost of operating the airport, the city annually subsidizes Riverton Regional with some $300,o00 from its general fund.
“Personally, if the board doesn’t get real aggressive, I for one would have a hard time for any future funding from the county,” Allen said. The Lysite commissioner is the county’s liaison to the airport board. “Push the issue, be more aggressive, not only now, but for the future and projects such as Moneta Divide,” he said. That project is proposed by Encana Natural Gas and would result in some 4,000 natural gas wells to be drilled east of Shoshoni, most of which would be in Fremont County. “How many of the people working there would choose to live in Casper rather than here just because of reliable airline service?” he asked. “And I bring concerns from the other commissioners. Money is short anyway and we have a hard time contributing as it is.”
Riverton City Administrator Steven Weaver said the commissioner’s comments were concerning to him, especially since a majority of the passengers flying out of the airport are not from Riverton. “This is truly a county airport and perhaps it needs to become county owned or have a joint powers board administer it so everyone in the county pays for its operation,” he said. “And we cannot afford to pay airline incentives to bring another carrier in here, even if there was one who would come.”
At Friday’s meeting, board member Bob Steen noted that the airport “pulls passengers from all of Fremont County, this should be a county issue. Riverton is the only city owned commercial airport in the state. Riverton’s zip code is not the highest number of passengers who fly out of here.”
Allen said if the leakage from Riverton Regional continues, now at over 50 percent of county residents who drive elsewhere to board flights, “the economic input would be devastating to Riverton and the county. If they rely on Casper, they’ll live and spend their money their for these upcoming projects. It’s an ongoing concern for us. We even had to fly one of our ambulance director candidates into and out of Casper because of the limited time he had to visit.”
Add to that concern, and current oil and gas operators who are now using airports in Rock Springs, Jackson and Casper, and the Job Corps Center opening in 2015 plus concerns voiced by the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear.
Travel agent Cindy Olson, who also serves on the airport board, said there are hardly any other carriers available even if Riverton were to attract one. “Skywest is about the only one, but the problem with them is that they are a Delta commuter. We don’t have enough boardings so they would have to be paid a large subsidy. We can’t come close to affording that, and once they come in, they want more every year because they have a monopoly in the market. And then as a travel agent you can’t get the lower fares.”
The overall issue of airline service in Riverton, and the state of Wyoming, will be addressed at tonight’s Riverton City Council meeting when an airport consultant under contract with WYDOT Aeronautics will give an update on the current issues. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Riverton City Hall.
To see Parts 1 and 2 of this series, click here