Ever since magnificent Lake Powell was created as part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utahns have fretted over the fact that while most of the huge lake is in Utah, nearly all the commercial benefits go to Arizona.
Efforts to correct this situation historically have met with resistance from the National Park Service, which opposes more development on the Utah side of the vast lake. The latest conflict is over a proposed new airport near Hall's Crossing in San Juan County.The idea of an airport to replace a dirt landing strip at the site has been studied for years and makes good sense. Everybody seems to agree on the need. San Juan County wants a $2.1 million airport to help lure tourists to the area, an idea backed by state officials. The Park Service wants a new airport, too, to serve companies providing tourist services in the area and to help agency workers get around.
But the problem is the size of airport and type of services allowed. This is causing a conflict between Utahns and the Park Service as well as a turf battle between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Park Service.
Utah is seeking a full-service airport with a runway long enough to handle 19-passenger commuter jets, as well as offering tie downs for planes, fuel, some aircraft repairs, charter and scenic flights, and other outlets for airport concessionaires.
The Park Service says it will only release the land for an airport if the agency keeps strict control over the facility, with charter, scenic and medical flights not allowed.
The FFA, which has $1 million in its budget to help construct the new Lake Powell airport, says it can't release the money if the Park Service imposes such restrictions on types of airport use.
Utah officials brought U.S. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. to inspect the proposed site this week and to make their arguments for having a full-service airport. Lujan's response was sympathetic, but fell short of any actual endorsement of such an airport operation.
Certainly, there are environmental concerns to be addressed, but they should not take total precedence over everything else. It's not like Utahns are seeking another Salt Lake International Airport at the site. At best it will still be a relatively small airport.
Unless a small, full-service airport is built, and a proposed swap of federal and state lands is made to allow development on the Utah side of Lake Powell, the state will continue to play a poor cousin to Arizona.
At present, Arizona reaps 70 to 80 percent of the financial benefit of Lake Powell tourism, even though 90 percent of the lake is in Utah. Something must be done to redress that imbalance and the airport is a good place to start.