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Air Tanker Base needs repairs

The 21-year-old Durango Air Tanker Base, operated by the San Juan National Forest, is in dire need of maintenance. A recent engineering study revealed the need to resurface the base ramp – the area where firefighting air tankers taxi and are loaded with fire retardant. Repairs to the ramp are estimated at $1,000,000.

In 2001, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who secured the funding for the base, spoke at the dedication in the backdrop of the historic Missionary Ridge Fire. He spoke of the base’s mission to provide air support to all federal, state, local and tribal firefighters across Southwest Colorado. Boundary-less firefighting partnerships protect our southwestern Colorado landscape and communities. In 2001, the Durango ATB pumped more than a million gallons of retardant in support of that mission, and the base has been a peak performer ever since.

Unfortunately, the San Juan National Forest does not have $1,000,000 budgeted to complete the necessary maintenance and the U.S. Forest Service budget process is long, cumbersome and competitive. And as we say in wildland firefighting, “Hope is not an operational concept.”

I ask my fellow citizens of Southwest Colorado to contact Rep. Lauren Boebert and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and urge them to work with the Forest Service to secure funding to complete this maintenance in a timely manner. Help protect our communities and wildlands in this beautiful corner of Colorado.

Bob Dettmann