In what must be a first in Utah, the Salt Lake County Planning Commission this week, in a 2-2 deadlock, effectively voted against expansion of a major industry in the area. That won't help the local economy

The tie vote meant that a proposal by Hercules Inc. for a $145 million expansion north of its existing plant - on a site near unincorporated Magna - cannot take place unless the Salt Lake County Commission over-rules the appointed planning body.The facility would build Titan IV and Delta II rocket motors. Hercules officials have not said how many jobs would be involved, but have indicated the impact on the economy at hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Why would the Planning Commission turn thumbs down on such a project? The biggest reason appears to be fear of an accidental explosion. Ever since a tremendous blast at a rocket fuel plant in Henderson, Nev., last month, some Magna residents have been nervous about having a rocket facility in their backyards.

Yet that risk seems exaggerated. Hercules has been making rocket motors at its West Valley plant for 30 years without blowing away any part of Salt Lake County.

Perhaps Hercules itself is inadvertently to blame for part of the fear.

In the past year, the company has fought hard to enforce a 1.5-mile "buffer zone" around its existing Bacchus Works as a safety measure. It cited the danger to residential housing in case of an explosion.

Having won that fight, the company now finds itself trying to occupy an almost contradictory position - saying there is nothing to fear in Magna, even though the proposed plant would not be surrounded by a similar buffer zone.

In addition, Hercules may have antagonized some county officials by getting itself annexed by West Valley City as a way to obtain its buffer zone - a move that cost the county some property tax revenue.

However, looking beyond these issues, Hercules has an excellent safety record and officials at the aerospace firm say new construction techniques would make the proposed plant safe without a buffer zone around it.

Salt Lake County can't afford to turn down industrial expansion that would provide new jobs and millions of dollars in wages and taxes simply because residents have been spooked by an accident in Nevada.

The County Commission should exercise its authority and reverse the Planning Commission action. That would be easy to justify, especially since the planning body could do no better than a 2-2 deadlock.