Work could begin within one or two months on the Cal Black Memorial Airport near Lake Powell, a planned $2.75 million installation that has angered conservationists.
On Thursday, bids for the first stages of construction were opened and will be examined by San Juan County officials before they are awarded.Rick Bailey, administrative assistant to the county commissioners, said the bids were for about $1.3 million worth of work that includes fencing the site, preliminary grading and drainage, some excavation and drilling a water well.
Conservationists have filed two lawsuits in federal court to block construction of the airport. One contends the Federal Aviation Administration failed to adequately consider alternative sites that would have had fewer adverse impacts on Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The second claims the Bureau of Land Management failed to follow its new management plan when providing San Juan County with land for the airport.
Mitch Barker, public affairs specialist for the FAA, said nothing in either of the lawsuits prevents his agency from providing the county with money to begin construction.
William J. Lockhart, attorney for the conservationists, said he expects the FAA will "respect the process" and allow the courts to consider the "important questions" raised by the lawsuits.
"It would be inappropriate to begin work on the ground before those questions are resolved," he said.
Lockhart represents the National Parks and Conservation Association, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The proposed airport would replace a short, dirt landing strip which the late San Juan County commissioner Calvin Black built near the Halls Crossing Marina on Lake Powell. That strip is located on a hill adjacent to the lake and is considered unsafe.
County officials originally wanted to build a medium-size airport adjacent to the Halls Crossing Marina to accommodate the tourism and commercial development they want to attract to this portion of Lake Powell.
Their preferred site was within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
However, conservationists and National Park Service officials objected to the proposal, saying it was wrong to build an airport so close to Lake Powell. The recreation area is managed by the National Park Service.
San Juan County officials responded with their present proposal, which calls for construction of the airport at a site located about one mile east of the recreation area boundary and just south of U-276.
Terri Martin, Rocky Mountain representative for the National Parks and Conservation Association, said noise from airplanes using the proposed airport would disturb visitors to Lake Powell and other national parks and wilderness areas in southeastern Utah.
She believes the FAA should expand the existing airport near the Bullfrog Marina rather than build another airport near Halls Crossing.
"This is just another boondoggle project designed to serve an unrealistic proposal to develop private homes and condominiums on the shores of Lake Powell," said Martin.
The FAA is providing a $2.5 million grant for the airport. San Juan County and the state of Utah are each providing $124,533.