State officials hope a new airport near Lake Powell and a wave of tourists will result from a meeting this week between Utah political leaders and U.S. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr.
"It's ridiculous for people to be going to Page, Ariz., when they could be stopping in Utah," said Bud Scruggs, chief of staff to Gov. Norm Bangerter.Bangerter and Reps. Howard Nielson and Jim Hansen, both R-Utah, will meet Thursday with Lujan at Hall's Crossing along the lake. State and local officials want the Federal Aviation Administration to replace a dirt runway there with a facility to safely handle thousands of tourists.
The FAA has included $1 million in its budget to begin building the airport, but the National Park Service, which owns much of the land, has been slow in approving the plan.
"The governor's going down to show Lujan where we want to put the airport," Scruggs said Wednesday. "We haven't been able to understand what their reservations are about this."
Parks Service officials have said they will release the land only with severe restrictions, such as perhaps not allowing drink machines. Some people say that would make it impossible for airport concessionaires to survive.
Lujan said he wants to break the deadlock. Nielson, whose district includes Hall's Crossing, also is anxious.
"We have no time to lose in developing this airport," he said. "It is critical to the economic needs of San Juan County, and it is a vital transportation link in making this great recreational area accessible to the public."
Nielson said the current dirt runway has some safety problems such as a 200-foot sandstone bluff at its south end and a slope toward Lake Powell at the north end, which the FAA considers insufficient "clear zones."
Also, the dirt runway does not allow proper day-and-night access for flights transporting anyone injured in the area, he said.
State officials have long said they are tired of seeing tourists spend all their time on the Arizona side of the lake, which stretches primarily through Utah.
"People have been working on this for more than a decade," Scruggs said.
The state wants to encourage more tourist developments along the lake. They have long expressed a desire to swap 60,000 acres of state land scattered through less desirable portions of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area for the same amount of land along the lake.