Stage 1 fire restrictions, enacted for unincorporated areas of western Boulder County.

News Archive

March 12, 2024

Superior and Boulder County Take Legal Action Against Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and Jefferson County

Lawsuit Calls for Airport to Stop Causing Unreasonable Health and Safety Risks

Superior and Boulder County logos

On March 12, 2024, the Town of Superior (the “Town”) and the Board of County Commissioners for Boulder County (“Boulder County”) filed a lawsuit in the Boulder County District Court to protect their residents from negative and unreasonable health impacts caused by certain operations at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (the “Airport”). In the complaint, the Town and Boulder County request the Court require Jefferson County, owner and operator of the Airport, to abate the public nuisance stemming from piston-engine aircraft conducting touch-and-go operations at the Airport. The Town and Boulder County are not seeking monetary damages, are not trying to close the Airport, are not trying to limit which aircraft can use the Airport, and are not asking Jefferson County to do anything it is not expressly authorized to do.

Annual operations at the Airport are largely made up of training flights. According to Jefferson County, in 2023, more than 155,000 operations were “local general aviation” flights which Jefferson County “presumed to be almost entirely training operations.” These training flights are conducted in piston-engine aircraft—the only type of aircraft still using fuel containing lead—which are primarily owned and operated by the four flight schools located at the Airport. A common operation performed during these training flights is a “touch-and-go.” A touch-and-go occurs when an aircraft lands and takes off without coming to a full stop. It is common for a single training flight to include several touch-and-goes. Due to the configuration of the Airport, most of the touch-and-go operations result in piston-engine aircraft flying at full power, low, slow, and loud directly over the Town and Boulder County. The number of touch-and-go operations is especially pronounced in summer months.

In recent years, operations at the Airport have continually increased. For example, in 2019 (pre-COVID), 191,533 operations occurred at the Airport. Just four years later, in 2023, 281,806 operations occurred, an over 47% increase in operations compared to 2019. In 2023, there was more than one operation every two minutes for the entire year (24 hours a day, 365 days a year). But as all residents know, these operations are condensed into the daylight hours of summer, leading to multiple overflights each minute during the busiest summer days. Jefferson County expects operations to continue increasing year-over-year and it is actively trying to expand the Airport’s footprint by seeking to build new infrastructure that it estimates would add another approximately 35,000 annual operations. The noise and pollution caused by these operations are felt directly by the Town and Boulder County.

Combining the high and increasing number of training operations occurring at the Airport with the regularity of touch-and-go operations leads to an unreasonable amount of noise and lead-particulate exposure over the Town and Boulder County. During the summer, piston-engine aircraft touch-and-go operations begin before dawn and continue non-stop throughout the day. Noise data shows that a single touch-and-go operation can be more than 1,000 times louder than ambient noise levels (measured on an A-weighted decibel level). Due to the constant impacts of these operations, residents cannot open their windows, cannot use outdoor spaces, and cannot sleep without interruption. By filing this lawsuit, the Town and Boulder County are demanding that Jefferson County abate this nuisance and stop exposing the Town and Boulder County’s residents to unreasonable health and safety hazards associated with piston-engine aircraft touch-and-go operations.

Mayor Mark Lacis commented that the Town could not wait any longer to act: “For years, we have asked Superior residents to be patient while we worked with Jefferson County to address the noise and lead pollution coming from RMMA. But now we know that Jefferson County did not take this issue seriously and went so far as to mock our residents’ legitimate concerns. Our residents have had enough. Jefferson County knows there is a problem and they could solve it immediately by eliminating touch-and-go operations by piston-engine aircraft. If Jefferson County won’t abate this nuisance voluntarily, we’ll have the Courts require it.”

Boulder County Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann commented: “We have not made this decision lightly, but after a lack of action from RMMA and its owner Jefferson County, we are moving forward with a lawsuit. We have spent countless hours trying to work through solutions with Jefferson County and the airport, but we aren’t seeing progress and our residents are still suffering from the negative impact of aviation fuel and piston-engine aircraft. We are hopeful that today’s action brings about much-needed change that improves the quality of life for our community.”

As the Town and Boulder County have explained to Jefferson County in the past, Jefferson County has the ability to be a good neighbor and reduce the unreasonable injury it is causing. Rather than work with the Town and Boulder County to address this important issue, Jefferson County has continued to grow operations at the Airport. The Town and Boulder County have exhausted all the informal options available and are thus forced to seek formal intervention from the courts. The Town and Boulder County remain willing to work with Jefferson County to collaboratively resolve this issue and are optimistic that protracted litigation can be avoided.

To receive updates, subscribe to the Town of Superior “From the Town Board” updates or Boulder County Airport Noise updates.

Collage of all three Boulder County Commissioners