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Air service woes frustrate FCAG, which urges more county assistance

Mar 28, 2014 - By Kelli Ameling, Staff Writer

Lander Mayor Mike Wolf posed a telling question this month while speaking about Fremont County's air service.

"How can we discuss something that doesn't exist?" he asked during a March 13 meeting of the Fremont County Association of Governments.

His issue is not only with Great Lakes Airlines. Wolfe said he also is frustrated with Fremont County commissioners, none of whom were present at this month's FCAG meeting.

Great Lakes has canceled dozens of flights so far this year as the impact of a federal ruling on co-pilot experience hit the regional carrier.

Wolfe said the air service situation is more than just a municipal problem.

"It's a county problem. It's a state problem," he said. "And I see no one here from the county."

The feeling seemed to be shared by others at the FCAG meeting, who noted that the Fremont County Commission is part of the FCAG board and receives agenda items ahead of time.

"I feel they have let us down," Wolfe said. "Come elections, I think we should reflect."

Later in the meeting, Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman also noted her frustration with the commissioners. She said her town is working on a $150,000 project at the Dubois Municipal Airport.

"There is no help from the county, although (the airport) services the northwestern part of the county," Blakeman said, also noting that medical personnel utilize the facility for life flight emergencies.

'Spiral out of control'

Lander's community resource coordinator Gary Michaud spoke about air service in Fremont County as well, specifically noting the trouble with flights out of Riverton Regional Airport.

"As you know, air service has not been very good," Michaud said. "Last month, 60 percent of the flights were canceled -- that's six out of 10 flights."

Those figures differed from data reported at a March 21 public meeting in Riverton, but cancellations have been significant all year.

If similar statistics become the norm, he predicts problems with air service in Fremont County will "spiral out of control."

Currently, Michaud's data shows a 50 percent "leakage" rate, meaning that half of area residents are utilizing airports in other counties.

Michaud thinks the number is actually higher than 50 percent.

"(That statistic) sounds low to me," he said.

A meeting was held March 12 to begin developing a plan to fix the problems with air service in Fremont County. Michaud said the group in attendance included state legislators as well as members of the Lander and Riverton city councils and both cities' economic development teams.

"This is a great time for the community to come together," Michaud said.

The state is offering funding to improve the situation, he continued, but local governments would have to raise matching money. According to Michaud, any funding from the state has to be matched at a 28 percent rate.

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness, who also attended the month's FCAG meeting, was in favor of moving forward with the state funding.

"It may be Riverton's airport, but it serves all of us," Warpness said. "It's very important."

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