Runway damage threatens ‘24 race season

Barbara Anne Greene

Speaking at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Big Horn County Commission, Kip McIntosh of Cloud Peak Drags/KCT Racing and County Airport Manager Paul Thur agreed that the damage to the runway sealant was nobody’s fault.
Cloud Peak’s last race at the South Big Horn County airport was in August. A test double coating had been put on the runway. The goal was to get more years out of the surface.
 McIntosh explained that he sealant apparently did not cure completely. It loosened up by the afternoon in the heat and was spinning the sediment until the original pavement was exposed. They cut the race short when they saw what was happening.
McIntosh said his biggest concern was that KCT didn’t want negative press. He emphasized they were a zero-profit who invests the proceeds they receive back into the community, and they would like to continue to hold the races at the airport. He estimates that they have brought around $200,000 into the local economy over the last five or six years.  
Thur said from his perspective and the airport board’s perspective, nothing negative happened. “We didn’t know this was going to happen,” said Thur, appearing via Zoom. “Lesson learned. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The racers didn’t do anything differently than they had done in the past.”
McIntosh agreed with Thur’s assessment of what happened. He said there would be a December meeting of the racers. He believes that if the runway is in the same condition it was in August, they likely would not race on it. He is concerned that if the racing was limited to non-racing slicks and no burnouts, the number of drivers would drop significantly.
The damage was repaired. The county had not received an invoice, as of the meeting. Thur estimated it would cost around $800. An agreement was made to split the cost between the county and KCT.
Thur told the commission that the airport board briefly touched on charging landing fees. “In a nutshell, if we were to adopt landing fees there is a way to exempt leaseholders there from paying landing and takeoff fees.”
He added a weight limit could be added as well. The idea is that heavier, non-based aircrafts would be the one to pay the landing fees.
Commissioner Dave Neves asked Thur the difference between charging a fee to land and charging a fee to get into the fairgrounds. “We haven’t done that and personally I’m not in favor of that until I find out more,” he said.
Thur responded “The difference would be…it’s like paying a fuel tax for when you are driving your car on the road. So, you should be putting a little bit back into maintaining it. So, I guess the idea, where landing fees came from is, ‘Hey, your aircraft is using the runways so you should be putting something in for maintaining those.’” He added it is a standard practice. He plans to do more research and noted that all commercial airports have landing fees including Cody.
Commissioner Deb Craft noted that at the Airport Board discussion about the fees, the fees were excessive. Thur went on to say that it is a public airport so the public should be able to use it for free but an aircraft coming in that is putting wear and tear on the runway should put back into the maintenance.
Neves explained that he understands this but that the county had lower fuel prices to get people to use the airport. He wasn’t aware that other airports charged such fees, but he is a bit cautious about doing so in this county.
Commission Chair Bruce Jolley said he is skeptical too. “Based on the discussions that went on between the commissioners and the airport board about the cost of fuel, ‘It should be lower to attract people.’ I see this as one of those discussions. The airport board wanted to keep the fuel fees down to attract people but then if you put a landing fee, isn’t that the same as charging fuel almost?”
Thur said the landing fee targets the heavier aircraft. If a plane doesn’t exceed whatever weight is set for the fees, then they wouldn’t pay. He estimated that 99% of the traffic wouldn’t be impacted.
Stephanie May told the commissioner the office was up to 40 septic tank applications for the year. In comparison there was 64 applications in 2021. There are 14 simple subdivision applications thus far this year. Five are in the works.