Boulder County is suing Jefferson County over noise and lead falling on its land — and residents — from the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport

Private aircraft control tower Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport Broomfield 230906
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Private aircraft and the control tower at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, Sept. 6, 2023.

Story updated, 3/12/24, 2 p.m., with comment from Jefferson County.

The town of Superior and Boulder County filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a regional airport owned and operated by neighboring Jefferson County.

A majority of the operations at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near U.S. 36 and Wadsworth Boulevard are training flights, according to the lawsuit.

In 2022, there was a takeoff or landing at the airport on average every three minutes, according to its website. In all, more than 280,000 “operations” happened at the airport in 2023, the lawsuit states. The plaintiffs take issue specifically with “touch-and-go” operations, where airplanes land and take off without coming to a full stop. 

The lawsuit, filed in Boulder County District Court, describes touch-and-go training operations as public nuisances that have negatively affected residents’ “health, safety and welfare.” The airport still allows planes to use leaded gasoline — although that will end by 2027. The lawsuit alleges residents in neighborhoods in the airport’s flight paths are exposed to unreasonable amounts of noise pollution and lead particulates. 

Operations at the airport have long been the subject of complaints from nearby residents. Earlier in 2024, a group of homeowners filed their own lawsuit against the airport, claiming the flights have impacted the value of their homes. In 2023, the director of the airport left his position after county officials investigated him for making belittling comments to nearby residents complaining about the airport in 2021.  

Spokespeople for Superior and Boulder County said the municipalities have exhausted all informal options available when working with Jefferson County to reduce the impacts of the airport.

“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,” Superior Mayor Mark Lacis said in a statement. “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.”

The lawsuit seeks an end to the touch-and-go operations at the airport but does not seek monetary compensation or the closure of the airport.

In a statement, a Jefferson County spokesperson said the county does not believe it has the power to limit touch-and-go operations.

“Federally-funded airports such as RMMA are subject to federal laws that require the airport to be available to aircraft operations, including those using leaded fuel, those that make noise, and those engaged in touch-and-go and similar operations,” the county said. “It is not a legal option for the airport to mandate a reduction in those operations.”

Jefferson County said people with complaints about the airport can make them to its “Community Noise Roundtable,” a voluntary association of airport staff, neighboring residents, and federal and state agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency found in 2023 that the use of leaded gasoline in airplanes contributes to air pollution that could lead to long-term health impacts. Lead exposure, especially among children, has been linked with various long-term symptoms, including developmental delays, high blood pressure, and other neurological impacts. The Federal Aviation Administration aims to phase out leaded airplane gasoline nationwide by 2030.