Utah and Salt Lake County had a showdown Friday over allowing small planes to land on a state road - and the county won.
A U.S. Forest Service plan to reseed burned-out portions of Emigration Canyon has resulted in two single-engine planes landing on U-65, better known as East Canyon Road, to pick up materials to reseed areas burned in summer fires.And, despite opposition from the Utah Department of Transportation, the landing will apparently continue.
However, UDOT may have the last word in the fight over who has the right to close the popular recreation road used by many Salt Lake residents traveling into the mountains to view the fall foliage.
UDOT Executive Director Eugene Findlay, who contends only the department can close a road, was preparing a letter Friday to county officials telling them they are responsible for any problems associated with the landings.
Findlay said he surrendered after being warned Friday afternoon by Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom that Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward would have any UDOT personnel trying to keep the road open arrested.
Neither Hayward nor Yocom, whom Findlay said agreed with the sheriff that it is in the public interest to allow the planes to land, was available for comment late Friday.
However, Lt. Mike Wilkinson of the Salt Lake County sheriff's office said he knew of no such warning and suggested that if UDOT is not happy with the county's actions, "they can get a court order."
Wilkinson said the county attorney determined that the sheriff has the authority to grant permission to land the planes for the "public necessity and convenience."
He said the sheriff's office has directed traffic while a one-mile stretch of the road has been closed repeatedly for not more than five minutes at a time since Thursday to allow the planes to land.
"I've never seen more than three cars backed up," Wilkinson said. He said the reseeding would probably have been finished Friday if UDOT officials hadn't reopened the road to cars about 1 p.m.
The road was closed again about 4 p.m. Friday after Yocom rendered his opinion. Wilkinson said planes were to continue using the road as a landing strip Saturday night and possibly part of Sunday until the project is completed.
The landing area is about one mile off I-80, on U-65 where the state road intersects with the county's Emigration Canyon Road. The company hired by the U.S. Forest Service is Moore Aviation Inc. of Ogden.
UDOT officials learned of the landings through a news broadcast late Thursday. Findlay said it appeared that the planes were landing on the road instead of heading back to Salt Lake City Airport No. 2 just to save themselves time.
He said that wasn't a good enough reason for UDOT to close the road and that the state Transportation Commission traditionally turns down such requests.