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Provo airport plan questioned

Commissioners back off from supporting it

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PROVO — Wondering if Provo had crossed all of its "t's" in a proposed airport master plan, the Utah County Commission backed off giving its support to the plan until some of its questions are answered.

The county commission doesn't officially vote on whether to adopt the plan — that duty falls to the Provo City Council Aug. 15 — but commissioners who were asked to give a token thumbs-up aren't so sure. In a meeting Tuesday, Commissioner David Gardner said his reading of the document shows Provo may not have coordinated its plans with the Spanish Fork/Springville airport.

"One of the things I haven't heard is whether the folks from Provo and Springville/Spanish Fork have gotten together on this," Gardner said. "It almost feels to me like the first one to the trough wins."

Provo's proposed master plan projects that within 20 years, the city could see thousands of commercial flights annually. The plan also calls for a third runway, radar coverage and an air traffic control tower. Airport improvements could cost $20 million within the first five years alone. If the master plan is approved, about 90 percent of the funding would come from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Large commercial aircraft making approaches and takeoffs at Provo Municipal Airport might interfere with smaller aircraft at Spanish Fork, Gardner said. His other reservations about the plan involved an increase in local fuel taxes and the fact that several private Utah County airstrips were not taken into account.

Gardner, who flies regularly out of the Provo airport and is seeking a pilot's license, said he would support passage of the master plan if those concerns are alleviated. Commissioners decided to ask representatives of airports in Provo and Spanish Fork to appear at an Aug. 8 meeting to answer questions.

Meanwhile, a member of the board that oversees operations at the Spanish Fork/Springville airport said no Provo representative has made an attempt to communicate what's in the proposal to officials at the Spanish

Fork airport. Board member Dean Allan said he hasn't read the plan, but he doesn't believe it would harm the smaller airport.

The consultant who designed the plan said it's the FAA's responsibility to notify the airports if any dangerous crossover in patterns exists.

"We provide the plans to the FAA and they do the airspace analysis," said Jim Sirhall, a consultant with Airport Development Group in Denver. "To date, they've indicated no conflict."

Sirhall said he accounted for all private airstrips on record with the FAA. If there are others not listed in the master plan, he said, they are unauthorized and could be subject to legal action.

As for Gardner's concerns about whether Provo had held the proper hearings on an increase in fuel flowage fees, Airport Manager Steve Gleason said those hearings already took place and the increase from three cents to six cents a gallon was approved by the City Council and implemented.

In order to offset residents' criticisms, Provo has sought public support for the plan from groups such as the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce and various businesses. One Provo council member already has said he will vote against the proposal, and debates leading up to the Aug. 15 vote have been acrimonious.

But Sirhall believes that if Provo doesn't adopt the master plan, it will be forced to deal with more difficult problems than the ones brought on by increased air traffic. Without a master plan, Sirhall said, Provo won't be eligible for millions in federal funds and likely will get neither permanent radar coverage nor a control tower. But demand for air service will still grow, he said.

City officials already have adjusted their plans so that a proposed airport parking lot won't take a portion of the adjacent Hinckley family farm, which was a major sticking point for many west-side residents. Provo would like to establish a 700-acre land-use protection area surrounding the airport, but residents fear it would limit their ability to develop or sell their land.

Sirhall, though, says the protection area does nothing that zoning ordinances don't already do to keep structures and other activities from interfering with the airport. The protection area, if approved, would allow Provo to get federal funding to purchase land around the airport — as long as property owners are willing to sell.

"The thing I am surprised at is that people just don't want to understand," Sirhall said. "If they turn the master plan down, the situation will get worse instead of better."

E-mail: carter@desnews.com