Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Ideas galore at airport use meeting


A group of around 30 citizens met at the County Annex Monday night to discuss possible new uses for the old airport.

Dusty Spomer and Wes Werbelow with GDA Engineers conducted the meeting, as their company will be creating a plan for the property based on the public’s input at a number of meetings.

Werbelow said there are some things to consider when it comes to the land – short-term vs. long-term use, public, private or mixed use and the long and short term costs associated with any plan.

“Tonight’s meeting is just possibilities,” Spomer said. “Don’t worry about costs tonight, we can work on that at later meetings.”

The land in question is approximately 105 acres that includes the airport’s runway and surrounding land. It does not include the golf course, as it is owned by the Town of Thermopolis.

All utilities are included with the exception of sewer service. Currently, the golf course and Stone’s Throw Restaurant are using private septic tanks with leach fields.

An expansion of the water system would be needed for any major building in the area.

GDA pointed out there is the possibility of an additional access to the property via Highway 20 as the current access could be an issue depending on the final decision as to the property’s future use.

There are specific points regarding the purpose and need of a plan, which include the deterioration of the facility, specifically the runway, that will continue to deteriorate until an alternative use is determined.

Additionally, they would like any alternatives to maintain or improve the harmony and compatibility with surrounding land.

It is hoped the public meetings will identify the highest and best use for the property, including economic impact, financial viability and support of community needs.

Residential: The possibility of residential use was discussed, offering options such as multi-family housing, high-density single-family housing, low-density single-family and estates.

High-density housing would be townhouses or condominium style while low-density would be something along the line of smaller, single-family homes.

Two issues arose, one being the need to expand the water access to the area and second, the possibility of having empty lots sitting for years without anyone building on them.

Commercial: A new business park was one of the options offered for commercial use of the property along with office buildings or retail opportunities.

While those options could create new jobs in the county, the downside could again, be empty lots. The example of the Business Park south of town was used as an example of how long something like that could sit gathering dust.

Industrial: On the industrial side, the options would be heavy or light manufacturing.

New businesses of this type would increase the number of jobs in the county and could be a boon to the economy.

The flip-side would be taller buildings or towers built for manufacturing businesses that would not meet the compatibility with the surrounding area.

Recreational: The suggestion of additional green space, parks, ball fields for baseball and soccer, hiking trails and other sport related activities was offered as an alternative as well.

This alternative would have the highest compatibility with the surrounding area and would probably be the lowest cost alternative.

However, the narrow road access currently in place would be an issue with increased traffic. In addition, it would limit the growth possibilities for the land and lower the tax value. Maintenance costs would also need to be a consideration.

Two other options were presented, a mixed-use, which would be a combination of any of the above single options and a potential land swap with the State Park or other agencies.

Public comment

The floor was then opened up for public input and the first suggestion was an Airpark.

The idea was up-scale homes that include geo-thermal heating and an option to fly-in to the homes by the owners.

The project would have to be a private one as the airstrip cannot or will not meet Federal Aviation Standards.

Costs for maintaining a private airstrip for the project would be very costly and some felt it would be in direct competition with our current airport.

The Recreation District has great interest in the property, suggesting a number of things that could be re-purposed and land that could be used to expand the offerings of the district to county residents.

There are currently two hangars on the property that measure approximately 125’ x 125’ which could be turned into basketball courts.

Expansion of offerings by the district could include go-cart racing, an RC flying club, bike trails, hiking trails, archery and an area for art classes or an art college. The possibility of moving the 3-on-3 basketball tournament to the property was also suggested.

Another suggestion was the possibility of a land swap with the state so the county would be out from under the costs of paying state leases.

The impetus behind this is the county missing out on grant opportunities because they do not own the physical land the different buildings sit on.

It should be noted the leases with the state average $1,200 a year. Many of those costs are eliminated through in-kind agreements between the state and Hot Springs County.

With the recent approval of a Hospital District, the land was proposed as a perfect place to build a new hospital.

The current hospital sits on a flood plain. Some expressed concern, should the dam break, we would lose a critical resource if the hospital were demolished or rendered unsafe due to flooding.

Moving the hospital to the proposed area would require an alternative access point, especially during the winter months. Actually, anything that would create an increase in traffic on the current road would suggest the need for an alternative access point from Highway 20 North.

Other thoughts for repurposing the area were green house manufacturing, much like the mushroom farm in Shoshoni; development of the arts, a possible art college or area where local artists could create their art; an RV park; manufacturing of fishing gear, clothing or boats or a convention center or resort.

The one idea that seemed to capture the attention of those in attendance was a possible mixed-use opportunity between the Recreation District and a private developer that would include a convention center.

The thought would be to take the suggested expansion of services by the district, add some of the ideas from the State Park Master Plan, such as an equestrian park, zip lines and primitive camping, topped off by a convention center.

Thermopolis is approximately four hours from nearly anywhere in Wyoming, making this the perfect spot for a convention center and activities like these.

Next steps

The next step in the process is for GDA Engineers to take all the suggestions provided at the meeting and generate several different alternative uses for the area.

After they’ve completed those alternatives they will hold a second public meeting to present their work. That will allow them to then focus on the public’s preferred alternative, work up cost estimates and await the county commissioners final approval.

If you were unable to attend the public meeting but would like to have your idea heard, please call either Spomer or Werbelow with GDA Engineers in Cody at 307-587-3411.


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