Airport proposal fails to get off the ground

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A proposal to have several local municipalities take over operation of the Peace River Airport doesn’t look like it will fly after municipal councils decided to honour the ongoing process to seek a new operator instead.

The Town of Peace River took over the airport in 1996, but after over 20 studies and years of running deficits, the Town decided to issue a request for proposals for the operation of the airport. The process is open until later in October.

A committee calling itself the Peace Region Development Committee contacted all of the local municipalities including Peace River proposing the RFP process be shut down. They asked the municipalities in the region to step in to take over operations instead.

Since 2016, the Town of Peace River has worked with neighbouring municipalities to fund the airport, but the municipal partners are not in charge of operational decision-making.

Committee members Bob Blayone, Cheryl Fitchie, and Norm Boucher presented the idea at the regular Northern Sunrise County council meeting on Sept. 24. Fitchie had previously spearheaded a controversial petition regarding the airport.

“We ask that all local councils lay down their swords, sit down together and in good faith work this situation out. Our committee is more than willing to help facilitate and mediate this process. We ask the Town of Peace River and surrounding municipalities to structure the airport as a regionally owned and operated entity,” Blayone told NSC council during the presentation.

The committee offered to have MLA Dan Williams mediate their proposed meeting on Oct. 1.

However, the committee’s idea stalled on the runway after NSC and neighbouring municipality the County of Northern Lights both passed motions to decline the committee’s invitation to meet to discuss the idea.

The Town of Grimshaw also declined.

“We did not attend the meeting as our council would like to see what responses come from the RFP to see what possible options there might be to operate a regional airport before we revisit a Part 9 scenario again. I understand that was the general feeling from all of the funding municipalities,” says Grimshaw Mayor Bob Regal.

The Town of Peace River also declined the invite to the meeting.

“We’ve issued the RFP, we put a lot of time and effort into the RFP, and we feel that the RFP will be of great value to not only the Town but also the entire region,” says Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey.

“I think that may open up accusations of prejudice if this particularly group were to put in an RFP, if we were to meet with them during the RFP process.”

CAO Chris Parker has previously said there are rules against the Town meeting with any one group.

It remains unclear what the next steps of the committee may be, and committee members had not responded to requests for interviews as of press time.

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