The Grand County Council approved a lease agreement Tuesday, June 4, with Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Helicopters to occupy office space at the airport. That opens the door for tours, which Pinnacle partner Ben Black of Durango, Colo., said the company hopes to begin by June 15.
The council voted 6-1 to allow the lease. Council vice chairman Lynn Jackson voted against the move, saying more information is needed about where Pinnacle will fly.
“I don’t have much comfort level right now on what their plan is,” Jackson said. “Rather than just voting on a lease, I’d rather learn a little more about their plans.”
He added he’s opposed to “the Disneyfication” of the Moab area “any more than it already is.”
But council member Jim Nyland, who made the motion to approve the lease, noted the Grand County Airport Board had already given its blessing to the proposal. The council should follow that recommendation, he said.
“That’s why we have boards,” Nyland said.
Council member Pat Holyoak said Pinnacle should be allowed to pursue its business vision.
“I’ve been on those tours and I didn’t find it that offensive,” she said.
Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison, the city’s liaison to the airport board, said during an interview that the city and county have no authority to regulate the business.
“The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] controls the airspace,” he said. “We don’t have much say. Once they get off the ground, that’s it.”
Canyonlands Field Airport Manager Kelly Braun said Pinnacle has the necessary letter of authorization through Federation Aviation Regulation Part 91. He added that the authorization limits the company to a 25-mile radius of Canyonlands Field and allows takeoffs and landings only at the airport.
“They will not conduct any flights over national parks,” Braun said. “That’s not allowed. I believe they will try to establish a route that will not negatively impact the area they’re flying over.
“Ben [Black] is very aware of the sensitive nature of our area. He is more than willing to work with the community.”
U.S. Bureau of Land Management Recreation Planner Jennifer Jones, of the Moab field office, said during an interview that a representative of Pinnacle talked with her Jan. 4 to ask some questions. She called it a “cursory” meeting.
“They seemed interested in resource concerns, but I have not heard anything from them since that January meeting,” Jones said. “I had hoped there would be more follow-up.”
She said Pinnacle asked about the possibility of landing on BLM property and giving clients “a walk-around scenic opportunity.” However, that idea was not pursued, Jones said.
She emphasized that the BLM has no jurisdiction over commercial air activities unless they land on BLM property.
Black, the Pinnacle partner from Colorado, told council members the number of flights will be determined by customer demand.
“We’re looking at the area west of the airport that is already highly impacted by jeeps, ATVs and motorcycles,” he said. “We have no desire to fly over wilderness areas.
“We are not going to be flying over rock climbers. We will not buzz people on the Green River. Our goal is to come to Moab as a reputable business. We don’t want to come here and make everybody mad.”
Black’s comments did not satisfy three area citizens who spoke during the meeting.
“We’re only talking about them benefitting a small number of tourists, but the sound will affect everybody on the ground,” said Carolyn Dailey.
Kevin Walker also spoke against helicopter tours. At the least, he said, Pinnacle officials should put their intended routes in writing.
“We all know how it will affect us,” said Kiley Miller. “Nobody wants to be in a wilderness area with the chop, chop, chop of a helicopter. Tourists come here for the silence, for that peace. A 25-mile radius is large.”