PR council signs new airport agreement

Peace River town council reviewed the final Peace River Regional Airport Transfer Agreement at their Nov. 23 meeting.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Peace River town council has made a decision about the airport after what CAO Chris Parker says was an “extremely long process.”

The Town first issued a request for proposals for someone else to take over funding, operating, or owning the airport in August 2019. The Town has operated the airport since 1996.

Through the RFP, 12 different options were found, and council signed confidentiality agreements with them to keep the process blind and fair. Keeping councillors from knowing who was bidding helped prevent bias and political pressure, according to Mayor Tom Tarpey, including preventing any “antagonistic relationships” with himself from affecting the process.

The Town also held a non-binding referendum to gauge support for their proposal to turn over ownership and operations of the airport to a non-profit entity. Of the 178 people who responded, 74.7 per cent voted in favour of the proposal.

Town council reviewed the final Peace River Regional Airport Transfer Agreement at their Nov. 23 meeting.

“One of the major advantages of this new non-profit organization taking over the airport ownership and operations is to remove all forms of political pressure from individuals spreading misinformation,” Parker says.

“As this misinformation has been extremely damaging in helping the airport thrive and survive, the Town has had to treat every organization the same. However, some individuals at the airport who have been used to privilege, when they are finally treated equally, they protest and say they’re being oppressed. Well, that needs to stop and this transfer will assist in that. We have been assured everyone will be treated equally with the new organization.”

Parker says the airport is extremely important for the region, but air service is not considered a core municipal service, and has taken a large amount of money and human resources to manage.

The Part 9 company in the agreement will function similarly to a regional airport authority, and the senior management will still be hired or appointed federally.

Since it’s non-profit, a Part 9 company can have up to 50 shareholders, but doesn’t issue them dividends and will reinvest any profit back into the airport.

The board of directors of the non-profit is comprised of people from the local community who are successful businesspeople and aviation enthusiasts.

The Town will continue to provide financial support to the airport at a cost of $700,000 for two more years.

Parker says the Town has unofficial agreements with regional partners to help continue funding the airport during that time.

Parker says Peace River pays about 40 per cent of the $700,000 a year, which Tarpey says is still a significant amount for local taxpayers to cover.

He adds other levels of government have been happy to download the costs of the airport onto the Town over the past 10 years without contributing for use of the service.

The Town will provide the services of one full-time experienced airport employee and a part-time water operator for a year, and also still provide fire services to the airport.

“At the end of the day administration feels this is a good transfer agreement to ensure the airport stays open [and] air ambulance and Forestry are able to continue to operate in the region,” Parker says.

He says the new non-profit will “make this airport the envy of many other municipalities.”

Councillor Colin Needham says there has been a high level of effort in terms of planning and research documents over the past 10 years, including more than 20 studies.

He says the airport has been expensive.

“It has not been an easy task to take the airport and move it to the next level,” Needham says.

“It’s taken a long time to get here. I’m pretty excited about it,” he adds.

Town council unanimously passed a motion to ratify the agreement.

Now that the agreement has been signed, confidentiality can be lifted and council will meet the members of the Part 9 company’s board, likely on Dec. 7.

Administration’s goal is to have the complete transfer finished Dec. 15.

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