On March 10 the San Juan County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a development called Sky Pirate Ranch on a 320-acre property along State Route 211, the corridor that leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and the Indian Creek unit of Bears Ears National Monument. Applicants Joe Metzger and Spenser Orgel propose to build a private helipad and private homes for themselves, as well as up to eight tiny homes to be used as overnight rentals.

The two applicants are retired army veterans and pilots. They want to live on the property and use the helipad only for their own helicopter, and hope to reach an agreement with the San Juan County Sheriff or other entities to use the helicopter for search and rescue or possibly other services, such as wildfire work. They said they don’t want to change the overall character of the land.

“We’re two poor veterans—so don’t get it twisted, because we’re talking about helicopters, that we’ve got all this money,” Metzger said, explaining that they will rely on the overnight rentals for income but do not plan on giving helicopter tours. He noted that the location of the proposed helipad is over three miles from the closest neighbors, suggesting that noise disturbance to other residents will be limited.

San Juan County planning commissioners were overall supportive of the idea, but worried about how to ensure that the conditional use permit could not later be used for a large-scale commercial tour operation or an increased amount of air traffic. The body eventually approved the application with the following conditions: the nightly rentals must meet guidelines for water storage and fire guidelines set by the fire chief; the development must include the road improvements required by the Bureau of Land Management and/or fire chief; it must comply with any dust abatement requirements imposed by the BLM; no more than three helicopters may be allowed to be kept on the the helipad; the aircraft must be owned or leased by the owners; and only one may be in operation at one time unless being used for a public service such as search and rescue or fire suppression.

At the March 15 Grand County Commission meeting, officials alluded to the new development in San Juan County in an acknowledgement of a recent increase in noise complaints about aircraft. County Attorney Christina Sloan informed the commission that a second helicopter company has been approved to operate at the Canyonlands Regional Airport.

“I think this will be a big frustration to many people in the community,” Sloan said of the new helicopter at the airport, but she added that because the airport is federally funded, the county does not have authority over the airport unless there’s a safety risk.

Commissioner Trisha Hedin informed the commission of the recently approved helipad in San Juan County. As new growth reaches the skies above Grand County, officials think there may be more noise complaints to come.