The Tooele Valley Airport currently serves as an important facility in expanding the types of aviation services available in the Wasatch Front region and in Utah's wildland firefighting efforts; however, the small facility itself doesn't have water or sewage connections.

This is largely because it was essentially out in the middle of nowhere when Salt Lake City acquired the general aviation airport in 1993. The small airfield is located between Stansbury Park and Grantsville in Tooele County; at the time, neither of those cities could offer utilities to the airport, says Brady Fredrickson, the planning director for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

"The county hadn't developed the system that was close to the airport," he said in an interview with Friday. "For years and years, it was a long distance to get any water or sewer to this facility."

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That could soon change as the Tooele Valley population grows. The county's growth in recent years has resulted in nearby cities expanding closer and closer to the airport, which is closing the previous service gap that existed for decades.

As this happens, the department of airports is seeking to amend its current budget to add $900,000 so it can design new sewer and water utility connections using Grantsville utilities. The request is one of the four new budget amendments that the department is seeking, which also includes the expedition of a $683 million 16-gate expansion at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

The cost of the Tooele Valley Airport project — and the three others — are covered by "landing fees, terminal rentals, and other fees paid by the airlines," according to a public document included in the budget amendment request. The department is not seeking any funding from the city's general fund.

This map shows where planned water and sewage lines would go in relation to the Tooele Valley Airport.
This map shows where planned water and sewage lines would go in relation to the Tooele Valley Airport. | Salt Lake City Department of Airports

"Water and sewer (are) not a very sexy thing to talk about, but something that's really necessary," said Shane Andreasen, the director of administration and commercial services for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, in a presentation with the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday.

Why the Tooele airport matters

The department of airports operates the Tooele Valley Airport to help cover all sorts of aviation services outside of the flagship Salt Lake City International Airport. The airfield supports business-related flying and law enforcement/fire/rescue flying services, such as the Bureau of Land Management's wildfire operations. That's on top of flight training and recreational flying, such as skydiving.

The department also operates the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan as this type of extension, too. Fredrickson said these three airports work in harmony with one another. The small airports, specifically, reduce the demand for smaller planes taking off and landing at Salt Lake City International Airport, which opens up airspace and allows the main airport to expand commercial airline service.

"We refer to (the Tooele airport) as a diamond in the rough because it is a very essential airport in the Salt Lake City Department of Airports system," Fredrickson said. "Everything we do here to enhance and get more of that recreational aircraft and flight training to move out to here, or want to relocate out to Tooele, it takes that aircraft out of the Salt Lake City International airspace — and that's kind of a vital thing for us."

Moving firefighting, recreational and educational flight services out of the main airport also makes it easier for smaller aircraft to take off and land because pilots don't have to wait for "a bank" of larger aircraft to leave the airspace, he added.

While it doesn't have water or sewage, the Tooele Valley Airport is one of the few airports of its size that has an instrument landing system, according to Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. This service gives small aircraft pilots a place to land in bad weather, and it allows the small airfield to be a major player in attacking Utah wildfires.

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Future growth

The budget amendment request document states that the department of airports recently reached a 20-year agreement with the BLM so it can remain a launching point for federal firefighting aircraft. The airport will be home to the bureau's Single Engine Airtanker Operations, or SEATs, fleet, according to Andreasen.

"They'll be putting out fires for a long time in our region, and they're going to be spending over $7 million out on that facility in Tooele," he said

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Water and sewage utilities can make way for new facilities for firefighting pilots. It also allows for future growth in flight training services and recreational flying. For example, Skydive Utah, a popular skydiving company that uses the airport, has expressed interest in expanding operations in the future, according to Fredrickson.

As he points out, the right utilities — like water and sewage — are needed to expand business. The public document notes that the department of airports is working with the city's public utility department, as well as the city of Grantsville and other Tooele County entities on the design. Fredrickson estimates it will cost another $9 million to add the facilities once the design is ready in the near future.

But once complete, airport officials believe the diamond that is the Tooele Valley Airport has the ability to finally glisten.

"It has a lot of potential to expand and serve the community," Fredrickson said. "I think it's going to be a really good economic driver for Tooele County if we develop it right."

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