IGNACIO – The Southern Ute Indian Tribe opened its doors to Durango city councilors and staff on Tuesday for the quarterly joint meeting between the two governments.
Staff reviewed projects like the development of Durango-La Plata County Airport’s terminal expansion project and future development plans for La Posta Road.
Durango-La Plata County Airport aviation director Tony Vicari said the city and its architectural team are collaborating with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to host art depicting Southern Ute culture and history in high visibility areas of the airport, where half a million travelers pass through every year.
Tribal Council member Linda Baker, who serves on a design review committee for both phases of the terminal expansion project at DRO, said the committee is in touch with other tribal departments regarding plans to display art in the airport.
Vicari said the city has identified two “premium placed large scale display locations,” one in baggage claim and another past the screening checkpoint adjacent to concessions in the main concourse.
“Our intention is the Tribe will be able to utilize those spaces to depict whatever you feel appropriate in terms of cultural representation at the airport,” he said.
Tribal Councilor Marge Barry said she’s visited various airports around the country and has seen other displays of Indigenous art and people that impressed her. She asked Vicari if he is familiar with Indigenous art displayed at other airports.
Vicari said he’s aware of a number of examples, and the city’s architectural team has worked on Indigenous art projects in other airports.
“They’ve got some good experience about some things that worked and some things that haven’t. We feel like we’re well teed up to execute this well,” he said. “ … The two locations we’ve identified are about as high profile as you can get in the new terminal building. The intent is to build in case work and display work that allows for a really good blank slate for future collaboration with the Tribe to figure out how to curate that.”
Barry also asked Vicari if world developments such as the Israel-Hamas war are impacting domestic airfares and travel expenses.
Vicari said volatile airfares have been common in the last three decades. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically slashed demand for air travel, which brought ticket prices down. But understaffed airlines last year and this year pushed airfares to “historic highs.”
Increased jet fuel costs, which account for between one-fourth quarter and one-third of airline expenses, have also driven prices upward in recent years.
Currently, nationwide airfares have decreased by 6% to 8%, although local ticket prices have remained relatively level with 2% to 3% decreases, Vicari said.
He said the Israel-Hamas conflict has huge impacts on jet fuel prices, which leads to higher airfares. But surges in commodity pricing will likely lead to decreased demand for air travel, which could curb high prices.
“I think it’ll stop (us) from seeing really aggressive price hikes, but long story short, I don’t think travelers should anticipate any big reductions in airfares any time soon, unfortunately,” he said.
At the joint meeting between Durango and Southern Ute officials, Vicari also answered questions about water use at the airport. He said water conservation is a main point of focus as the terminal expansion project unfolds.
Tribal Chairman Melvin Baker said the Tribe has considered installing a water main from tribal land to the airport before, and Vicari said that would make for an interesting, in-depth discussion.
The Tribe also plans to perform a sweep of the land near DRO before the terminal expansion project is completed to uncover and preserve lost tribal artifacts that might be out there. Vicari said the city and La Plata County perform similar archaeological missions ahead of projects.