We were two of many concerned citizens at the Town of Ponoka Meet and Greet at the Kinsmen Community Centre a couple of weeks ago. Most of the people were at this function to question why the airport trees had to be cut down. We were led to believe this matter would be discussed at the town council meeting on Feb. 22.
Coun. Beva Hamilton, the town’s representative on the airport commission, spearheaded the Jan. 25 decision to cut down the trees but went to Mexico the next day, therefore avoiding further discussion of this issue. However, we still remained hopeful that the other councillors would re-evaluate their position.
Discussions with the mayor and town councilors revealed that the town council had three main reasons for cutting down the trees, none of which really made sense.
The first reason was that the trees were a safety hazard. This statement is not correct as the vast majority of the pilots using the Ponoka Industrial Airport feel that the trees do not pose any safety hazard. (At last count 21 pilots wanted the trees to be left alone and only two pilots wanted them cut down.) Ed MacDonald at JetPro (a company that designs and installs navigation systems) stated at the Ponoka Flying Club meeting in April 2009 that the existing GPS approach system was totally adequate for the Ponoka Industrial Airport and required no upgrades or tree removal.
The second reason advanced for cutting the trees is that the Ponoka Industrial Airport was decertified because of the airport trees. In fact, the Ponoka town council requested that the airport be decertified to save fees involved in annual inspections. The superintendent of aerodromes and airports with Transport Canada has confirmed that the decertification in 1998 had nothing to do with the trees.
The third reason for destroying the trees was that the WAAS system could be installed only if the trees were cut down. According to Mr. MacDonald of JetPro, two sets of trees would have to be cut down before a WAAS system could be installed — the airport trees and privately owned trees across the highway. The owners of the trees across the highway are adamant their trees will not be cut down.
The trees were destroyed the morning of the council meeting, in an effort, we suspect, to bring this controversial issue to an end. You would think that such an irreversible act would be validated by a well thought out plan. In fact, upon attending the Feb. 22 meeting, it became glaringly evident there is no plan.
Town council and town officials had no idea:
• whether a WAAS system can be installed or who would pay for a WAAS system;
• whether the runway should be enlarged, or the cost to enlarge the runway;
• whether the present runway could handle the weight of larger planes landing at the airport.
All of these issues should have been resolved before any decision was made to destroy the trees. We suspect no major improvements will be made at the airport and the destruction of the trees will be proved to have been totally unnecessary.
The destruction of the trees has revealed a very serious lack of judgment on the part of town officials.
There has been a combination of personal agendas, lack of due diligence by councillors and deliberate distortion of the facts. The mayor refused to hear from any members of the large pro-tree delegation at the council meeting Feb. 22. It is obvious that the mayor does not want to hear from the citizens. It is most unfortunate that a beautiful stand of trees had to be destroyed to expose how dysfunctional the town administration has become.
Something valuable was taken from this community and there should be retribution in some form. Town officials should be held accountable and the trees should be replaced.
Richard D. Wyrozub and D.J. MacLeod