PR Airport to be turned over to non-profit organization

Northern Sunrise County Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba addresses Peace River town counci at its special meeting Feb. 11.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

After a special public meeting with all of the Town of Peace River’s municipal partners, council has decided to move ahead with the process of turning ownership and operations of the airport to a non-profit organization.

Town council as well as reeves, mayors and council members from the M.D. of Peace, the County of Northern Lights, Northern Sunrise County, and the Town of Grimshaw attended the special meeting on Feb. 11.

After a majority of Peace River residents voted for the Town turning over operations to a non-profit in a referendum Feb. 5, Town administration reviewed four different options to move forward.

The two best prospects from the request for proposals process started in August 2019 were reviewed without stating any specific names due to confidentiality agreements. Administration recommended the second proposal, because the first proposal would have cost the Town over $9 million and didn’t guarantee the airport would stay open after eight years.

Instead of accepting the second RFP proposal, administration said the Town could also choose to hire a new airport manager and try to cut costs of operations, end the RFP process and try to start a Part 9 corporation as recommended by a local committee, or shut down the airport altogether.

Neighbouring municipalities spent 30 minutes privately reviewing the options before coming back to the meeting to ask questions and give their preferences.

The land the airport sits on is in the M.D. of Peace, and Reeve Robert Willing asked that if the airport were eventually to have to revert back to municipal ownership that it revert to Peace River rather than the M.D.

“The airport is the property of the Town of Peace River and you guys have run it admirably given the circumstances that you have,” Willing says.

“Not that we’re looking to dump something on you guys that’s going to cause a problem, but I think it’s a function of us having the ability to look after an asset like that. It would be extremely difficult for us.”

Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey says any agreement with a non-profit will be written in such a way as to give the M.D. of Peace first right of refusal to take the land if it ever does have to revert back.

Of the four municipal partners, three agreed the non-profit in the RFP was the best option.

Only Northern Sunrise County refused to state a preference, at least at first. Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba said they didn’t have enough information.

However, after Councillor Don Good and administration clarified that the municipalities would get to review all details once they voted to move forward with divestment agreement negotiations, she agreed her council’s questions had been satisfied.

Town council voted unanimously to move ahead with formal negotiations to shift ownership and operation to a non-profit company.

Legal transfer agreements with the non-profit organization will now be drawn up for the Town and its partners to review, and councillors will learn the name or names of who submitted the proposal.

According to administration, the non-profit will have a board of directors likely made up of prominent local businesspeople.

The finalized details will then be brought back to council for possible ratification.

“There’s still a lot of hiccups during the whole process here,” says CAO Chris Parker. “What might happen is the proponents themselves might step back and say no, we’re not doing this. Council might have got to the final end and say no, we don’t like this or go back and make some changes. But the end goal is to have the complete turnover at the end of May.”

The Town will provide $1.4 million in financial support over the first two years, as well as one employee and fire suppression services. Any new businesses at the airport will pay taxes, but any current tax exemptions will remain in place.

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