The great Uber-Copter caper
January 30, 2016
So Sundance 2016 is a wrap. I’ve heard it described in a lot of ways, but mostly in the context of family dysfunction. Sundance is the annual two-week visit from the unruly step-children, or the alcoholic brother. You never know what will happen, but can be guaranteed that it will be interesting, stressful, entertaining, and chaotic. We’re relieved to see them go, and already looking forward to next year’s visit.
Every year Sundance makes sure there is one movie that is so astoundingly weird that it defies reason. This year’s gross-out hit was "Swiss Army Man." As best I can tell, it’s a re-make of the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway" where Hanks is alone on a desert isle, with only a volleyball for company. In the case of "Swiss Army Man," the part of the volleyball is played by Daniel Radcliffe. Instead of a volleyball, he is a rotting corpse that farts. Yes, Sundance brought us a 96-minute fart joke. Just knowing that such quality stuff is around made all that time stuck in traffic worth it.
The real drama, of course, was the Uber-Copter service. For Sundance patrons with egos too big to fit in a normal airport shuttle, there was a new service to fly them to a hayfield in Snyderville by helicopter. By most estimates, the helicopter took longer than driving. The grand entrance by helicopter was kind of lost when the only audience for the landing was a few cows and panicked horses along Old Ranch Road.
It was all a publicity stunt, and performed that function extremely well. There were hundreds of news articles about it, all over the world. Of course there were no permits. Uber don’t need no stinkin’ permits. So the County went to Defcon 1 and did what they could to stop it. The judge wouldn’t issue a temporary injunction because it wasn’t clear they had the right parties. There was no easy way to figure out who owned these particular helicopters.
So Sheriff Justin Martinez went into action. The County decided that they were in violation of the zoning code, which prohibits "development" without a permit. The definition of "development" is pretty thin, but I think there are differences between landing a helicopter and landing a strip mall on the same patch of land. The threats to arrest the pilots, coupled with deteriorating weather and the end of all the A-list parties, brought the drama to a whimpering end.
I was disappointed. First off, the only helicopter pilots I know are old Vietnam vets. None of them would let some County Sheriff tell them where they can and can’t land. If the Uber-Copter people had any balls, they would have found a landing pad across the county line in Wasatch County. It’s actually closer (aside from the permanent traffic jam on 248), and Wasatch may not have cared if there were helicopters landing in the Stock Lumber parking lot.
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On the County side, Sheriff Martinez handled it responsibly. He hails from the "come let us reason together" school of law enforcement. Our prior Sheriff, Dave Edmunds, would have used surface-to-air missiles and blown the Uber-Copter and the Hollywood attitude out of the sky. Might be Syrian refugees on board. But he was a Republican, and you sort of expect that. If you don’t think Summit County has surface to air missiles, you are probably wrong. We have a complete Navy, including a submarine, stashed in a warehouse in Kamas. It was all bought when the Feds were throwing Homeland Security money everywhere. Edmunds was a master at milking that cow. While I haven’t seen what he bought in terms of air defense equipment, I don’t doubt for a second that we’re covered.
Cooler heads prevailed, and we were spared, or cheated out of, the spectacle of an air war over Snyderville between the County planning department and Hollywood. But it would make a much better movie than "Swiss Army Man."
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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