Area resident Bill Love is concerned about the potential impacts to a community and its schoolchildren living near the privately owned Sky Ranch airstrip in northern San Juan County, and says it should be required to conform to local conditional use permitting.
Love has a photo that has been shared with area officials showing a school bus near where the runway landing strip’s asphalt meets dirt. The dirt separating the end of the runway and the nearby public street appears to be several feet wide.
In an April 28 email to officials in San Juan County, Love wrote that there were over 15 small plane crashes in 2018 and expressed concern that the private runway “ends at the main road to the residential area” accessed by school buses.
“The new (San Juan County) land use codes need to restrict night flights and all flights or close the airport,” Love wrote.
In response to Love’s April 28 email, former San Juan County Administrator Kelly Pehrson replied by writing, “Good thing all liability of the airport will be with the airport owners, Mr. Love. There is no need to warn the County of this issue, it’s private. We don’t take on the liability of every business owners risk do we? That is why we live in America.”
On May 1, San Juan County Administrative Assistant Tammy Gallegos said Pehrson resigned from his position as San Juan County’s administrator, but said she does “not have an exact date on that” resignation date and said to email Pehrson at his San Juan County administrative email address. Pehrson did not immediately respond for comment.
In a reply to Pehrson’s email, Love said that he thinks the airport needs to be closed “until it is made safe.”
“I am more concerned with the possibility of an aircraft running off the runway and possibly hitting a school bus and killing up to 50 children,” Love wrote back. “The county is responsible for having land use codes that protect the residents in San Juan County.”
No further comment has been sent in the email exchange.
A legal opinion on the San Juan County land use code as it applies to turning the rural ranch airstrip into a private airport was obtained by a Spanish Valley resident. In a letter dated May 9, 2018, Sandy-based attorney Dale Kimsey wrote that the operation as an airport would necessitate a conditional use permit from San Juan County.
Kimsey also wrote in his legal opinion that “The Runway does not comply with FAA regulations for the type of Airport contemplated in that it does not have proper setbacks and safety zones, has a conflicting ‘pattern’ in light of the existing airstrip and helibase within its pattern.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Salt Lake City said on April 30 that it was involved in processing airspace cases on Sky Ranch, and assessed the private airstrip expanding into an airport.
“Since there was no federal investment at the private airports, there were no FAA obligations or design requirements,” FAA public affairs spokesperson Allen Kenitzer wrote by email.
The FAA made suggestions for the Sky Ranch operation to follow, but the private airport does not have to follow those suggestions, Kenitzer wrote.
Other San Juan County officials did not immediately respond.
Area residents say they are concerned for safety around Sky Ranch airstrip
“Since there was no federal investment at the private airports, there were no FAA obligations or design requirements.”