Committee proposes option for airport’s operation

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The Peace Region Development Committee [PRDC] has asked the Town of Peace River to withdraw their search for someone to operate the airport.

Instead, the committee wants to work with local municipalities to establish a Part 9 Corporation to run the airport.

The Town of Peace River has issued a request for proposals to manage the airport after years of the regional transportation hub running a deficit. Town council received a briefing report on their options from CAO Chris Parker at their last regular meeting, which included everything from different leasing options to a concession agreement to selling the airport.

While local municipalities have been working together to fund the airport since 2016, none of the partners have wanted responsibility for operating the airport. Parker pointed out that in the past it was the opposite, and regional municipal partners wanted to have a say in the operation of the airport but not fund it.

After outlining concerns about fuel management and the “unwelcoming business atmosphere” for tenants, the PRDC has suggested municipalities take over operations.

“After many hours on the road, in the air and on the phone talking to individuals in Peace River and across the Peace Region we would like to offer the committee’s advice on what we feel is the best possible solution. In these trying economic times it is absolutely critical for everyone to work together to find success,” the committee wrote in a report received by area councils.

“In saying this, we ask the five municipal funding partners to immediately begin discussions and work together to form a Part 9 corporation to take over operations of PRA,” reads the letter.

The five partners are, but not limited to, Northern Sunrise County, Town of Peace River, M.D. of Peace 135, Town of Grimshaw and County of Northern Lights.

“The committee would be willing to help facilitate this process. Under this structure, as municipal partners in PRA your county will no longer just be limited to funding the airport, you will also be able to provide operational input. The committee feels that the economic sustainability and success of PRA depends on this structure. At this time the committee also asks that [the Town of Peace River] retract the RFP for operator of PRA to allow this process to take place.”

The report was signed by committee members Bob Blayone, Cheryl Fitchie, and Norm Boucher.

The committee has invited all local councils for a private meeting on Oct. 1 at 6:30 pm in the Mackenzie Room at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre to start the process of creating the corporation, and is requesting that one council member and CAO from each municipality attend.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams has offered to mediate the meeting.

Peace River town council has not yet had the opportunity to officially review and discuss the committee’s request. CAO Chris Parker says most of those discussions will likely occur in camera.

However, Parker adds if the Town speaks to one group individually, that violates the rules of the RFP process, and means that group is ultimately excluded.

“We did that deliberately because we didn’t want companies to individually try to pressure our administration,” Parker says.

Parker says the committee can submit an RFP with their proposed solution without the Town retracting the entire RFP process as the committee has requested.

“If they want to pursue a Part 9 they can do it through an RFP. Go ahead and put it in,” Parker says.

Parker is not able to discuss details, but indicated the Town has already had multiple other interested parties also looking at taking over management and so may have several other RFPs to consider.

Noting that Williams has offered to mediate a meeting, Parker says seeing that 80 per cent of airport activity is in support of provincial government ministries, the Town may even be willing to entertain the province taking over operation of the entire airport.

All RFPs will be reviewed by outside consultants and brought to the Town’s other municipal partners before a final decision is made.

For their part, Northern Sunrise County also says they will respect the existing RFP process.

“The County will wait to see what the outcome of the RFP process brings before final decisions are made. Having the Town of Peace River begin an RFP process for the airport operations was a decision made by the airport funding partners so that the Town and the partners could explore all avenues for the airport operations,” Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba says.

Kolebaba said Northern Sunrise County council will receive a presentation from the committee at their council meeting Sept. 24 before deciding whether or not to attend the subsequent proposed meeting on Oct. 1.

The M.D. Of Peace No. 135 will also be reviewing the proposal at their regular council meeting before deciding to attend the Oct. 1 meeting, according to CAO Barbara Johnson.

Grimshaw’s Mayor, Bob Regal, says, “The general consensus from Grimshaw’s council was to see what options for the operation of the airport come out of the RFP issued by the Town of Peace River before any decision is made.”

Representatives of the County of Northern Lights were not available at press time.

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