By Kirk Starratt
Everything is still up in the air at the municipal airport in Waterville.
A consultant’s report from CBCL Limited studying the feasibility of relocating the airport was supposed to be completed by Oct. 31. There is a draft completed, but county Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashley said a few tweaks are still needed.
“This particular report is loaded with lots of sensitive information that would compromise the privacy of people and businesses if released as is,” he said.
Ashley said they’re looking to release a shorter, less technical version of the report that communicates the findings without compromising private information.
“The sooner we can get it out into the public for an open discussion, the better,” Ashley said of the $82,000 report.
He said there are two groups or committees involved. The selection committee was established for steering and oversight and has essentially met its mandate.
The next step, Ashley said, involves a meeting with the provincial economic development group that triggered this whole process with Michelin.
No date has been set for the meeting and it isn’t clear how long it will be before the condensed report is released publicly.
The catalyst for the study was to see if closing the current 94-acre municipal airport and relocating it would be feasible. The purpose would be to make way for a possible expansion by Michelin. The Waterville plant neighbours the current airport site.
Outgoing Kings County councillor Basil Hall, a former pilot and aircraft owner who flew out of the municipal airport for 12 years, served on the selection committee. He has also served as a municipal representative on the Waterville Airport Co-op board. Hall said there was a meeting Oct. 30 and confirmed the draft report has been completed.
“At the end of the day, the study belongs to the people who paid for the study,” he said. The province funded the feasibility report.
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Waterville Airport Cooperative board chairman Walter Isenor said the actual flying operation at the airport has had no connection to what’s going on other than providing information for the study early in the process.
“I haven’t been able to get any information out of them at all,” he said.
“The sooner we know, the better.”
Isenor said he appreciates those involved with the study have essentially been sworn to secrecy, but the airport community is waiting on pins and needles. Uncertainty is stifling further investment at the current facility and Isenor said it’s having an impact on recruitment and flight training.
However, his sense is that the consultants are looking deeply into the issues in a professional manner and looking at the bigger picture, not just the airport. Isenor believes the report will be very good from an economic development perspective.
Premier Darrell Dexter did not respond to a request for comments prior to deadline for this edition. Kings County Warden Diana Brothers confirmed there was a meeting coming up prior to Oct. 30, but didn’t return a call requesting an update following the meeting.
The consultants were tasked with identifying three alternative sites and providing cost estimates for each potential site. The consultants will recommend a preferred site and provide a business case, including economic impacts and benefits and relocation costs. The process included exploring land usage and zoning in the surrounding areas and meetings with airport stakeholders, including 14 Wing Greenwood.
Michelin currently employs 1,200 at the Waterville plant. A briefing document reportedly obtained by provincial media earlier this year states the proposed Michelin expansion could represent an investment of $500 million, creating an additional 200 jobs.
In 2007, the annual economic spin-off of the airport to Kings County was estimated in excess of $1 million.