A flagpole near Tooele Airport is disrupting flights, Salt Lake City claims

An 80-foot-high, unlit flagpole erected by a family whose property adjoins Tooele Valley Airport disrupted air travel and created a safety hazard, Salt Lake City, the airport’s owner, claimed in a lawsuit this month.

Salt Lake City Corporation is asking a judge to issue an injunction to remove the pole on the grounds that it obstructed aero-medical flights, restricted wilderness firefighting operations and forced the Utah Air National Guard to redirect training missions to Nephi, and adds Adding that at least two private flights had to change course or change their schedule to land elsewhere because of this, the complaint filed in the 3rd Circuit Court said.

The flagpole stands in Erda, about 1,260 feet – about four football pitches – from Tooele Valley Airport’s only runway. The Kunz family bought the land near the airport in 2000 and divided it among family members. She then built the flagpole this summer in honor of Dick Kunz, the family patriarch and veteran who died in 2013, the Tooele Transcript Bulletin reported. An American flag flew from the mast on Thursday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a preliminary ruling earlier this year saying the flagpole “is a suspected hazard to air navigation.” The lawsuit said that any structure over 61 feet “would cause significant disruption and warrant a determination of the hazard to aviation.” The administration has not yet made a final decision.

Currently, flights to and from the airport are suspended between dusk and dawn because of the flagpole, the complaint said.

Neil Kunz, whose mother owns the property with the flagpole, admitted during a June 22 meeting of the Erda City Council that the flagpole is affecting airport operations. However, he countered that the airport interfered with the way his family used their property, arguing that flying over it was tantamount to trespassing.

He did not respond to the Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment on Friday.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Flights to and from Tooele Valley Airport are suspended between dusk and dawn because of the 80-foot unlit flagpole, Salt Lake City’s lawsuit says.

When asked for comment, Salt Lake City spokesman Andrew Wittenberg said in a statement that the city does not normally comment on pending litigation.

“However,” he continued, “at all of our airport locations, including Salt Lake City International Airport, South Valley Regional Airport and Tooele Valley Airport, our primary goal is to ensure safe air travel for all passengers and residents day and night.” guarantee.” Living in the immediate vicinity of the airport area.”

Salt Lake City also operates South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan.

The City Council of Erda heard from Neil Kunz at least three times at meetings in May and June, where he discussed whether the family would obtain the appropriate permits before building the flagpole. While the family’s building permit was approved, the Kunzes did not apply for a conditional occupancy permit to build taller than the 35-foot permit in the zoning.

Neil Kunz argued that he did not need the conditional use permit because the code only provides a height limit for buildings, not structures like the flagpole.

Finally, on June 22, Erda City Council voted not to enforce the need for a conditional occupancy permit. The vote was 2:3. Then came the lawsuit — according to court documents, the latest in a nearly 20-year saga between the Kunz family and the airport.

Salt Lake City first began looking for a significant area for air rights to the family’s property in 2004, about five years after the city first acquired the airport, to expand the runway and allow more planes to fly in and out. The city and the Kunzes never reached an agreement, and the city started a sentencing process in 2007, which the family fought in court. A judge dismissed the sentencing case in 2018 on the grounds that the city failed to follow due process.

Jess Bird, Chairwoman of Erda City Council, said the city council gave the Kunzes planning permission for the flagpole when the city council was still in its “infancy.” Erda was incorporated as a city in January 2022.

He said the engineering firm they hired to process the building permits either misinterpreted the code or didn’t read it when approving the application. The code had been followed, Bird told the Kunzes should have applied for a conditional license. Then the topic would have been discussed among council members, the Kunzen and the airport.

“I’m sure we would have gotten a much shorter permit for the flagpole,” he said, “but because none of that happened and the permit was granted, the city council got it.” somehow split on both sides.”

Now, Bird said, Salt Lake City’s lawsuit has made the matter “a moot point for us” because a judge will decide what to do. Still, he said, the council often hears from local residents who live near the airport – and that disputes are likely to continue as both Erda, the county and the airport expand.

A March 2022 report of flight activity at Tooele Valley Airport found that Tooele County was one of the fastest growing counties in the country, helped by its easy access to Salt Lake City. This growth drives development – ​​and increased airport usage.

In 2019, the Kunz family asked Salt Lake City to buy the property, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Neil Kunz said at the time flights disturbed his sleep and made the property “unsuitable for residential use”. Salt Lake City has offered to buy the land, but not for what the family feels is a reasonable price.

As long as the flagpole is up and no planes can fly into the airport at night, the Kunz family might sleep better. However, it’s unclear how long that will last and at what cost.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign at Tooele Valley Airport warns of noise from overhead flights.

Justin Scaccy

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