A group is proposing construction of an airpark on Saxon Street in Canning to replace the Waterville airport. The municipal airport is slated to close this fall.
The proposal was circulated to Kings County councillors prior to the last closed-door meeting with Michelin in May. An outline suggests the airpark would be located on Saxon Street. It would operate as a non-profit society “for the benefit of the broad aviation industry (public and private), and with a strong vision to spur economic activity within Kings County.”
According to the proposal, Kings Airpark Society (KAS) would own or permanently lease the property associated with the airpark and government would not be directly involved in the ownership or management of the airpark. However, “positive, ongoing dialogue is desired to make sure we all remain in sync and working together on things that are in the common good for Kings County.”
KAS would own the common infrastructure: a runway, terminal building, fuel sales, a professional simulator and possibly t-hangars for rent. The group says it would work with private individuals and businesses to invest in buildings.
KAS also hopes to use peripheral land for traditional hangar lots, small RV spaces and residential home/hangar lots.
The group’s proposal states, while it will “structure its day-to-day business and operations to be financially always in the black,” it may look to governments for help with some infrastructure upgrades in the future and is seeking initial infrastructure money, including $2 million from the County of Kings and between $2 and $4 million apiece from the provincial and federal governments.
KAS is also asking for a 10-year contract with the county for ongoing infrastructure-only funding, which will amount to $50,000 to $100,000 annually, and is asking to be zoned for no taxes for core infrastructure.
Flight training is marked as being critical to the success of the proposed airpark, particularly ensuring the current flight training school at the Waterville Airport moves into the site. Other desired features include a parachute jump school; a Valley Search and Rescue site if desired; and a possible partnership with local universities for international students with associated programs and other non-profit organizations.
Saxon Street makes economic sense: Squires
Gordon Squires, chairman of the board of directors of the Waterville Airport Co-op, sent the proposal to council. He says that while the co-op would prefer not to see Waterville close at all, they believe a site in the eastern end of the county, closer to Halifax, is the only possibility that would make economic sense.
The Saxon Street site was chosen, he said, because there are currently two grass landing strips already in place – one that is about 2,500 feet long in an east-west direction and another that measures about 1,200 feet in a north-south direction.
KAS would pave the existing east-west runway for its use, Squires said, while the second would remain a grass landing strip for emergency use. Due to wind direction in this area, an east-west runway is needed.
The group says it would likely cost about $1.5 million to pave the existing runway, which would only be usable for light planes, up to a maximum size of a twin engine.
“The owner already has two runways and is willing to entertain extra activity and a few more hangars,” Squires said.
An “airpark” is slightly different than an airport, Squires added. An airport has setbacks and design specifications that must be followed from a Transport Canada standpoint, including the ability to operate a commuter service if needed. Saxon Street would not be a certified airport and would be more of an “aerodrome.”
The size of the proposed airpark would be similar in size to the current Waterville facility, he added.
“It would have a small number of businesses similar to what we have in Waterville, there for the operation of the airport. We’re not talking anything chemical or toxic,” Squires said.
“There’s the potential for small building lots – residences and hangars on the same property. The existing land would allow for a runway about the same size as what we have in Waterville.”
The Saxon Street property, he said, would not require the expropriation of any neighbouring land.
“We’re not out to hurt anyone, we’re not looking to take farmland,” he said.
Opposition to the plan
Although this plan has not yet been released publicly, Canning-area residents have expressed concern and have set up a Facebook group to gather support.
Soren Bondrup-Nielsen is the spokesperson for the group of about 40 area residents and farmers who have formed the North East Kings Citizens Group.
“Our concern is simply that this proposed airpark on Saxon Street is on A-1 farmland, and it’s massive in size. They’re proposing an airstrip that is 5,000 feet long with a proposed housing development inside it so people can park their planes in their backyards,” Bondrup-Nielsen said. “This could be 640 acres in size.”
Bondrup-Nielsen says an airpark doesn’t fit with the Kings 2050 plan or the province’s stance not to develop prime agricultural land and believes it could have far-reaching consequences.
“This would impact the food sector for all of Nova Scotia,” he said. “We’re concerned they essentially want to pave prime farmland.”
That’s not something Valley residents need to be concerned about, said Squires.
“We have made a firm commitment that any land we take out of cultivation, there will be new land not currently in use that we put back in to cultivate within a year or two so no usable land will be lost,” he said. “We’re not looking to railroad anything.”
Squires says the KAS has put in a request to present the proposal to council, but has not yet been given a date to do so.
He adds that the Waterville Airport Co-Operative would prefer not to relocate at all, but that appears unlikely with county council’s commitment to sell the current site to Michelin for future use.
North East Kings Citizens Group contacting council
Bondrup-Nielsen has sent a letter to county council on behalf of the North East Kings Citizens Group, asking that the county move forward with the cost benefit analysis of moving Waterville Airport and calling on the airport co-op to withdraw this proposal until the study is complete.
The North East Kings group also asks county council to “keep Waterville Airport open until this process is complete and so long as Michelin makes no firm commitment to an expansion requiring airport land.” That proposal, first suggested last month by councillors Pauline Raven, Emma Van Rooyen and Patricia Bishop, was defeated in a vote by council.
The North East Kings group intends to attend the council meeting June 3, where it’s expected the terms of reference for the business case study will be discussed.