The current Sechelt council has been pushing to develop the airstrip in Wilson Creek since they took office in 2011, but whether they’ll accomplish that goal before the next election this November is still up in the air.
Sechelt wants to lengthen the airstrip (from 2,600 feet to 4,000 feet) and upgrade aging infrastructure to create a Transport Canada certified airport that runs regularly scheduled flights to the mainland. Included in the plan is the creation of an airpark and industrial area that can be leased out to tenants in order to generate revenue for the airport.
Leading the charge for change is Coun. Chris Moore, who’s been the chair of the District’s airport advisory committee since its inception in early 2012.
“Airport expansion is a key element in economic development and business development for Sechelt and for the Coast,” Moore explained. “It’s what I would consider one of the corner posts to take us to a new level of business development and attracting businesses here, and it’s obviously critically important for the tourism sector.”
Other councils have considered expanding the airport in the past, but the cost has stopped all short of the goal.
The cost to upgrade the airport (expand the runway and improve airport facilities) is now estimated at about $10.7 million. That cost has risen dramatically from the $4.5 million estimated in 2012.
“We got caught up in this new regulatory requirement that just came out this spring with Transport Canada,” Moore said. “This impacts every airport in Canada and it’s all safety related stuff. Without getting into great detail, it includes things like the width of the runway, the clearance you need, what you need at the front and back end of the apron, etc.”
Sechelt council has committed thousands of dollars to reports (including a business case and marketing plan) that point to the validity of the airport expansion and its positive economic impacts, but so far there aren’t any higher levels of government willing to pitch-in to make it happen.
The cost would have to be split between the provincial, federal and municipal governments.
Moore said Sechelt’s portion wouldn’t come from taxes; however, it would be borrowed.
“We would only borrow money if we had cash flow generated to pay for it through the airport, though,” Moore noted. “We’re not willing to go to the tax base for that. That has to come from the internal operations and the leasings of the land or whatever we choose to do with the land [surrounding the airport]. It has to come from that and we’re adamant about that. We don’t want to put that tax burden on the taxpayer right now. We’ve got other fish to fry with the tax dollars.”
Sechelt council has spent about $60,000 on reports relating to the airport development since 2012 with the most recent from InterVISTAS noting Sechelt “could support scheduled increased air services.”
That report cost Sechelt $35,000 and Moore hopes it will show other levels of government what they want to see.
Previously Sechelt had hired two lobbying groups at a cost of about $50,000 to push the airport expansion project with the federal and provincial governments, to no avail. The recommendation from the lobbying groups was to craft another report the governments were familiar with and re-pitch the plan.
“So the InterVISTAS company was recommended by some of the higher echelon with the Conservative party in Canada that this is a company that is nationally recognized as knowing what they’re doing,” Moore said.
Sechelt hired the recommended company and its “multiple accounts evaluation” of the airport expansion was completed recently.
The report recommends expansion for economic reasons. Moore expects to be taking the new report before the federal and provincial governments soon.
“There’s been a lot of work to get to this point and we’re cautiously optimistic we can roll it forward,” Moore said.
One thing that’s not in any of the reports on the proposed airport expansion is the inclusion of drag racing on the new airstrip.
Drag racers were concerned about the exclusion earlier this month when they were steered towards leaving the airport and making a new drag racing facility by Sechelt Mayor John Henderson and Coun. Doug Hockley.
Moore said the inclusion of drag racing at the new airport is something Sechelt is “in discussions about.”
“There are airports that coexist with this kind of an operation and I suppose that is a possibility but that said, I don’t think there’s a member on council that is not supportive of drag racing, whether it’s going to continue at the airport or whether we need to find other land for them and make that happen,” Moore said.
You can learn more about the proposed airport expansion on-line at www.secheltairport.ca.
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