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Tue, Aug 22, 2006

New Utah Airport Approved By FAA

Environmental Group Supports Decision

Good news for flyers in southwestern Utah... as the Federal Aviation Administration gave its final approval Monday to build a new airport to serve the growing city of St. George.

"It's Christmas in August," Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said in response to the news. "St. George is booming, and its airport simply can't keep up with the increased demand for much longer."

It has been a long time coming for the new airport, which was delayed following a court win for The Grand Canyon Trust in 2001. The environmental group accused the FAA of not taking the noise impact to nearby Zion National Park into account when pushing for the airport.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that situation has now been rectified, according to city leaders, with the new airport -- located five miles southeast of the city -- offering a noise-abatement approach path designed to keep airplanes west of the park, and as high as possible. The Grand Canyon Trust said Monday it supports the FAA's decision.

Now comes the issue of money -- with the airport's expected cost now lying somewhere in between $120 and $150 million, far above initial expectations of a $92 million tab, due to the costs of the delay and litigation.

Fortunately for St. George, the city will receive an infusion of cash next month -- when the FAA hands the city its first financial grant to get the bulldozers rolling. The check will be delivered by agency administrator Marion Blakey.

"This has been a long and sometimes difficult process," said St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, "and we are pleased to finally be at a point where this project can now become a reality."

The Tribune reports the new airport will ultimately be able to handle as many as 120,000 passengers by 2020 -- more than twice as many as the current facility (above right), which offers service through regional operator SkyWest.

In addition to allowing room for expansion, the new facility will also be able to handle slightly larger jets than the 50-seaters flying into the current airport. The old facility has also drawn the FAA's ire, due to its runway not meeting agency safety standards.

And as for the fate of that old airport? Well... to help defray the costs of the new facility, the land near downtown St. George will be converted into, you guessed it, new residential and commercial lots. The price of progress.

FMI: www.sgcity.org/airport/

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