Trail ponders purchase of regional airport

Trail city council is taking a flyer on landing sole ownership of the regional airport south of the city.

Trail city council is taking a flyer on landing sole ownership of the regional airport south of the city.

On a wing and a prayer Monday night council passed a motion in their regular council meeting to begin ascent into the cloudy process of acquiring proprietorship of the Trail Regional Airport and its lands.

Fuelled by an impasse over what has been characterized as a lack of support for the airport by the other regional district partners in the service, the city will be pursuing the purchase of the airport from the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, but without a firm business plan in place.

The city has no idea of the actual purchase price, how the service will be funded or if it will become a separate city department. But the idea is being propelled forward with full council support, councillor Rick Georgetti announced Monday.

“We are willing to take over the cost of the airport and improve the airport because we see this as viable to our economy here,” he said. “With the other regions, our impression is they just want to have the status quo, but we want to see things moving forward.”

And things have not been moving forward for some time.

After receiving no support for an airport service review in late November, the East End Services committee member representing Trail, Robert Cacchioni, said the city was still committed to expansion of the airport.

Georgetti said the committee missed the point of the review request.

“All (committee members) did was criticize our letter, which was disappointing,” he said. “There was no discussions on whether to keep the service at all or upgrade.”

And so, in November, Cacchioni said the city would explore other options.

That other option will be purchasing the airport—which could be over $1 million—allowing the city the autonomy to move the findings of the Airport Master Plan forward.

Councillor Sean Mackinlay pointed to an upgrade of the runway and upgrade or replacement of the terminal as some of the major capital projects the plan saw as needed at the airport, but previously had been voted down by the other East End partners.

“A lot of communities are happy with the way the service is, but we would like to expand it more. If it is a question of money, we are willing to step up to the plate and move it forward quicker,” he said. “If there is anything we can do to move this thing forward quicker so we can see the improvements we want to have done, we are going to move on those right away.”

Business plan or not, the city has all of the evidence it needs to begin landing ownership of the airport. Councillor Kevin Jolly Pointed to numerous medivac flights coming out each month from the airport as one indicator the service was essential.

“We just see this as a key building block in the future of the city of Trail … and we’re prepared to undertake that responsibility,” he said.

Citing dissatisfaction with the slow progress of the Regional Airport Service Review initiated by the City of Trail on Aug. 22, 2012. the service review was expected to address the timeliness, interest and participation of the airport’s regional stakeholders—including Rossland, Trail, Montrose, Fruitvale and regional district areas A and B—in terms of future service enhancements to the facility.

But the request was stymied when the East End Services committee voted against continuing with the review.

“In my opinion, there was no need for a service review. The majority of the members were happy with the service and how it was proceeding,” said Ali Grieve, Area A director, after the vote.

The city will now advise East End Services of the interest in negotiating the purchase price and ownership of the regional airport and its lands for the “sole purpose of running, improving and ownership of the infrastructure and airport service.”

The city would not expect a further property tax subsidy from local governments in Greater Trail as a result. Georgetti said the city would be willing to negotiate the title of the lands back to the regional district if it was required as a condition of the initial sale of the lands.

As council’s representative on the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce board, Mackinlay said the position of the business community was it was behind the move, and that it would support both the Trail and Castlegar airports.

“We do like having the two airports,” he said about the chamber’s view. “And, at the city, we feel we can operate the airport in a very progressive and very economically sound way, and we are going to take that burden on ourselves.”