Renovation of Canyonlands Field Airport will widen the runway and remodel the terminal starting in January. When complete, the airport will be able to accept larger regional jet traffic. In the interim, Sky Ranch airstrip in south Spanish Valley may host operations from Redtail Air Adventures. Construction activity at Sky Ranch, however, is roiling at least one resident who believes there could be new aircraft storage hangars and public fueling facilities planned at the strip’s location in San Juan County.
Sky Ranch is a little-used ranch airstrip owned by Moab Development Trust, a company registered to Moab businessman Mike Bynum. Records from the San Juan County Assessor’s Office show that Bynum, as the registered agent of Business Resolutions, purchased the 32.25-acre property on Feb. 2, 2015. The previous owner is listed as Red Rock Partners LLC — an organization now operated by Business Resolutions, according to documents from the Utah Secretary of State’s office.
The strip is currently undergoing a realignment of the runway and repaving. Sky Ranch is not the Old Airport, though it is in the same vicinity. Sky Ranch is located between East Coronado Road and East Mt. Peale Drive. The regional airport was moved from Spanish Valley to its present location 18 miles north of Moab in approximately 1974.
On the topic of development at Sky Ranch, Bynum told The Times-Independent any future plans will be in line with zoning regulations in San Juan County — and that he is aware of no solid timeline for new construction.
“There are certainly plans for development, but they are plans for individual residences only, on one-acre lots,” Bynum said. “A decision has been made to conform with the existing zoning, which is one-acre-plus in size next to the realigned runway. The new size of the runway is the same width as the runway used to be ... we have no [new construction] currently scheduled, but our hope is to start development next to the private runway to include not only hangars for airplanes, but for people with outdoor recreational vehicles that might build homes there. They will be custom homes and will not be just airplanes ... it will be required for people to build [homes] and this will be a residential development.”
In addition to his multiple business interests in Moab, which include hotel development, Bynum is the chairman of the board of Redtail Air, is listed on the Moab Regional Hospital website as a member of its board of directors — and is a past member of the Utah State University-Moab advisory council.
Kim Jacobs and her family live adjacent to the Old Airport. She said the Sky Ranch and many nearby properties have been quiet for many years, though that could all change, she fears.
“Many Spanish Valley residents moved out here for the quiet and wide-open space,” Jacobs said. “When we bought property out here ten years ago, Sky Ranch was zoned for six houses. We knew Sky Ranch could become a sky park, but with six houses and literally zero development after many, many years, we took the risk. Six houses and six planes was not a huge deterrent for us. While Sky Ranch has been virtually dormant, homes, families and neighborhoods have surrounded it. One would think that Grand County and the City of Moab would be very concerned due to the increased approach and departure air traffic over Moab and Spanish Valley. The prevailing wind in Spanish Valley is from the south, which means that planes will be on final approach from the north, flying low over the residents of Grand County.”
According to Bill Groff, Canyonlands Field Airport advisory board chairman, he doesn’t think Redtail Air wants to make a permanent move to Sky Ranch or any other airport, saying the cost of moving fuel tanks and other infrastructure would be high. Groff also said that plans to build a crosswind strip for use during the airport’s renovation — contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval — would likely lure Redtail Air to stay put.
Bynum said the Sky Ranch runway would remain private despite its possible use for UPS flights during runway and terminal upgrades at Canyonlands Field.
“We have spoken with officials in San Juan County and told them that we may be using the [Sky Ranch] strip for approximately four weeks to do UPS deliveries during the airport shutdown,” Bynum said. “As soon as the crosswinds runway is available we will be at [Canyonlands Field]. Other than that, Sky Ranch’s runway will continue to be for private use only ... it has never been intended to be a public airport.”
John Ramsey, president of Redtail Air and a close friend of Bynum, said that the 2,000-foot crosswind strip is planned for Canyonlands Field and that the strip will operate as a temporary runway while the airport is under construction. Ramsey confirmed that Redtail would use Sky Ranch for five daily UPS flights a week, if the crosswind strip is not completed by the time the Canyonlands Field closes on Jan. 1.
“The only activity we’ll have at Sky Ranch will be that UPS flight and that will only be until this temporary runway is put in,” Ramsey said. He added that if the crosswind strip is completed before that point, it will not be necessary to move any operations to Sky Ranch.
Moab’s air freight is dispersed to Blanding, Monticello, Bullfrog, Hanksville and all over southeast Utah, Ramsey said, “so it’s kind of a critical flight to maintain so we can’t just tell UPS no we can’t do it for a while.”
All other Redtail Air operations will be moved to Price until Canyonlands Field reopens. Construction is projected to be finished on or by April 30, said Canyonlands Field Airport Director Judd Hill.
The FAA recently approved the crosswind strip, Hill said. However, there are still airspace requirements to hammer out before construction can begin. He hopes to complete the crosswind strip in six to eight weeks — hopefully before the airport closes on Jan. 1.
As for Sky Ranch, Hill said that it would never be a public airport.
“It will always be private. It won’t get the federal funding and private airstrips are a whole different ball game because it’s private property. Other than county zoning, the government is not going to come and tell you what you can and can’t do in your backyard, short of basic zoning,” Hill said.