Pincher Creek council pumps the brakes on airport commitment
May 12, 2022 By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze
Located a few kilometres northwest of town, the Pincher Creek Airport is comprised of a paved 6,600-by-100-foot runway that mostly serves water bombers fighting forest fires in the summer.
Over the past year, the MD of Pincher Creek, Municipality of Crowsnest Pass and Town of Pincher Creek have collaborated on a master plan that would develop the airport for more commercial travel, which would contribute to the tourism and industrial potential of the region.
The Village of Cowley has joined Crowsnest Pass and the MD of Pincher Creek in forming a Regional Airport Committee to develop potential services at the airport, which would operate as a non-profit municipal corporation.
Although the other municipalities are ready to proceed with the project, town council members have been hesitant to commit due to a lack of information. The town requested the committee’s terms of reference be created before making a decision, which was reviewed during the May 4 committee of the whole meeting.
Going over the document generated more concerns for council members.
One major problem town council had centred on the definition of quorum, or the minimum number of committee members needed to hold a meeting and make decisions.
Though the terms of reference stated the committee would have seven members — one from each municipality and three citizen representatives — it did not stipulate that representatives from a given municipality had to be present in order to make decisions. In cases where the town representative was unable to attend, decisions could theoretically be made without the town’s input.
The other major issue town council had with committing to the committee was that little information existed about the airport’s business model and what its operational costs would entail.
While the town has been willing to collaborate with municipal partners to get the idea of an improved airport off the ground, Mayor Don Anderberg said agreeing to contribute as an operating partner was premature.
“I haven’t seen a formal budget or estimated cost for what it’s going to look like to work with our partners. We got to see that,” he said. “That in my mind will determine if we want to be a part of this or not.”
An actual business plan including anticipated costs for hiring employees, operations and improving infrastructure needed to be addressed, he added.
“Really there’s not that many pieces, but the money piece is a big one.”
Coun. Sahra Nodge agreed, noting that many of the suggestions from the airport master plan included items that came with large price tags.
“I think it really just is coming down to do we want to be part of a regional organization that we know will be expensive,” Nodge said. “We don’t know what the numbers are, but I can’t imagine that an airport in any sort of operation is cheap.”
Given the highly regulated nature of the industry, she continued, operating the airport will require specialized knowledge and will constantly be growth-oriented in regard to capital expenses.
“It actually does make sense for us to go into a regional piece with it, but I’m not OK with going into what seems to be incomplete governance structures that open up the town to risk and liability,” she said.
Council decided to discuss the matter further with its MD of Pincher Creek partners as an additional item during its May 10 meeting, which was scheduled to go over plans for the new curling rink.
The next Pincher Creek town council meeting will be held Tuesday, May 24, 6 p.m. at council chambers.