The “never-ending debate” over the City Centre Airport is dividing the community and must be resolved so officials can focus on the region’s future, the head of Edmonton Airports says.
All the airplane traffic at the facility, including about 4,000 medevac flights a year, can be shifted to the International Airport, authority president Reg Milley said Wednesday.
“If our community continues to avoid a decision, you are telling us to continue spending our time on a never-ending debate, one which fractures our community and pits us against each other instead of aligning us to a broader, far-reaching vision,” he told city council’s executive committee.
“We should be focused on issues like developing Port Alberta to truly set the Edmonton region apart, and the continued expansion of air service, while continuing to focus on improving passenger experience.”
Milley made his comments at the start of a scheduled three-day public hearing into whether the airport should be closed and developed into a transit-oriented neighbourhood that could house 24,300 people, including residences for 2,000 NAIT students.
At least 70 speakers are scheduled to make presentations in one of the largest city hearings in years.
Redeveloping the 217-hectare site is projected to generate $91 million to $335 million for the city over 25 years if the airport closes in 2016, providing a medevac heliport, commercial and retail space, and room for a northwest LRT line.
Along with cutting average property taxes by 2.4 per cent annually, such a project would reduce urban sprawl and eliminate airport-related height restrictions on downtown buildings.
But Coun. Ron Hayter argued the so-called Muni should stay, lifting the 10-passenger cap on scheduled flights and working to attract more businesses.
“If that airport was being used properly as a small airport serving the North, and not in opposition to the major airport…it would probably be a bonus to the citizens of Edmonton.”
While city lawyers have indicated the city’s lease with Edmonton Airports makes it impossible to remove the passenger cap, Hayter said council could negotiate changes if it wanted.
But Milley said the authority’s board reaffirmed its support for the restrictions last weekend.
“The plain and simple reason for not expanding scheduled service is that two airports with scheduled service in a region with a population base the size of the Edmonton region is not only impractical, it will ensure that Edmonton receives only the lowest level of air service possible,” he said.
“For those who say we’ve strangled City Centre Airport, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Airport supporters say city reports don’t take into account the value of the facility as an aviation centre. Another key concern is the risk to roughly 400 critical medevac patients taken downtown by airplane each year if these flights are shifted to the International.
Coun. Linda Sloan said a consultant’s report understates medevac trips from Yellowknife.
Several northern leaders feared their citizens could suffer due to longer transfer times to Edmonton hospitals.
“In the case of medevac, a wrong decision can, and we feel will, affect our lives,” Peace River town Coun. Don Good said. “The airport is to some extent ours.”
Since Edmonton is the provincial capital, he said, “our interests must be listened to and not dismissed.”
Air Mikisew spokesman Dale Monaghan said several First Nations in northern Alberta have a treaty right to proper medical care, and would be willing to fight in court if this is threatened.
But Mayor Stephen Mandel later told reporters health care is a provincial, not municipal, role.
“It seems to be lost in this whole process that we aren’t responsible for providing medical services. Medevac is not ours, it’s theirs…We want to help, but it’s not our citizens’ responsibility to provide 600 acres for medevacs.”
As much as I feel for the business leaders in the area, the time has come for Edmonton to take a step forward and close the airport.