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Christopher Onstott, The Spectrum
Politicians, businesspeople and city and state officials formally break ground for the new St. George airport at its 1,400-acre site.

ST. GEORGE — Hopes were sky high in Dixie over the weekend as hundreds of people showed up to an official groundbreaking party for a $175 million airport to be built about seven miles southeast of the city.

"One of the biggest things I am probably ever asked is, 'When is the new airport going to be built?"' St. George Mayor Dan McArthur told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the site for a ceremonial kick-off Friday to the airport's 24/7 construction schedule. "Well, let me tell you. We've had a few problems! It was not an easy thing to get here."

The Federal Aviation Administration's approval of the city's plan to build a replacement airport on more than 1,400 acres included the Fed's promise of $90 million to help fund the project. Anderson Development is buying the present airport site for $43.96 million and another $17 million in FAA funds was already spent on land purchases at the proposed site.

Environmental challenges and land disputes delayed the city's plans for several years and likely added nearly $80 million to the cost of the project, McArthur said.

"But that's all behind us now," he said, much to the delight of his audience, which included dozens of elected officials and representatives from SkyWest Airlines and the FAA.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said he remembers hearing from the mayor about the need for a new airport years ago.

"And I didn't even represent Washington County then," said Matheson, drawing laughter. "Today, this airport represents another significant piece of the puzzle making St. George such a great place to live, work and raise a family."

Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett also reminisced about the old days when the replacement airport was a mere twinkle in the eye of area leaders.

"Commerce is going to go up greatly with this airport and, as unbelievable as this sounds, this area is going to go up greatly in value," said Hatch.

Bennett said that 10 years from now locals will look back with pride on the day construction began at the replacement airport site.

"With the completion of this airport, St. George will not be second class to anybody. It is going to bring economic balance to this community," Bennett predicted.

Russell Childs, president and chief operating officer of SkyWest Airlines, said pilots constantly ask him when the new airport will be ready for service.

"An airport is only as good as its air service providers and we want to be the sole carrier in and out of this new airport," said Childs. "We'd love to bring as big a fleet as possible, but that will be dictated by supply and demand. I can't overemphasize how important it is for locals to fly in and out of the St. George airport now so we can determine what the level of service will be when the new airport is ready."

A grand opening for the replacement airport is anticipated for November 2011. The city's current airport, located on a landlocked mesa top in the middle of St. George, will eventually be redeveloped with trails, parks, a variety of residential choices and commercial areas.

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