Airport runway issue remains grounded

Matter deferred after lengthy discussion

Town council deferred making a decision to a later date regarding the Ponoka Airport after hearing from a delegation from the Business Owners Group (BOG) during its regular meeting Aug. 13.

Engineering costs

Eagle Builders, representing the BOG, requested that council reimburse them for engineering fees incurred as part of creating a proposal to extend the runway at the airport.

This group was formed in 2016 and undertook design work to support their proposal that was brought before council in July 2017 .

At that time, council adopted two resolutions to approve the runway extension pending certain conditions.

READ MORE: Ponoka’s airport runway extension gets green light

“At this point in time the runway project is not moving forward,” said CAO Alberta Flootman Aug. 13.

Flootman recommended council reimburse the amount, as the work could still be used in the future and be of value, if the runway project ever goes forward.

“The Business Owner’s group did incur costs,” he said, adding about $21,000 was spent on engineering.

Should the runway go froward, the proposed landing system should still be considered as it makes it safer for aircraft to land in less than ideal visibility conditions, says Flootman.

Currently when there is fog above 500 ft, aircrafts have to land in Edmonton or Red Deer. This new system would get that down to 300 ft.

Flootman also pointed out the town previously reimbursed engineering costs to Phase 3 for engineering costs related to LED lighting.

Although there was a conversation with the airport board in late 2016, there was no agreement or endorsement from council to the BOG to go ahead and commission engineering designs for the runway.

“I struggle with the time frame,” said Coun. Carla Prediger, adding there were no discussions on the issue as a council for over a year.

“I’m looking for the facts because it was very convoluted.”

“It was my understanding that it was the BOG that brought forward the initial proposal and the initial conversation with the airport board, that they did spend the money to do the design work without the official endorsement of council,” said Flootman.

“That is a fact. I’ve thought about that, and I’ve considered that and I’m trying to find balance in this discussion.”

Coun. Teri Underhill provided some background information on the situation, saying the extension to the runway was not part of the original plan, but the BOG approached the town about it.

“We fully supported that and we’d hoped that administration would get a deal done and this would have been dealt with back in 2016, I believe. That did not occur. There were further hiccups … at the end of the day we didn’t get it dealt with and subdivided until 2017,” said Underhill.

“If it’s a benefit to the town and if we’re able to use this report I don’t have a problem paying that money, but I want to know where the money is coming out of because there’s no mention of that whatsoever,” she said.

Flootman says a budget source hadn’t been identified and the matter would have to be taken back to administration.

“The pricing of the lots was the whole issue and I struggle with the fact that we are almost eight, nine years into starting this whole airport thing, that we haven’t sold one single lot out there,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett.

“I would like clarification for why this project came off the rails.”

The facility is not truly an airport, but a private landing strip that we operate tentatively as an airport, he added.

Bonnett said the town has $380,000 tied up in this.

“I do want some answers and I would like to see the airport completely out of our hands at this point,” he said.

“It was a project with more complexity than any of us contemplated originally … I simply have to say that I own it. We failed to get this thing put together in a timely fashion. We’ve definitely struggled to get this sorted out from a technical and legal stand point,” said Flootman.

“There is value in that work to have it on the shelf.”

READ MORE: Ponoka’s airport is an important structure for community, states group

Coun. Kevin Ferguson called the airport issue a “quagmire,” saying he wants administration to get council out of the deal as “cheaply and fairly as possible” and if paying the engineering fees does that, then he supported the recommendation.

“Show me that it’s fair.”

Craig Hahn, appeared before council, representing the BOG. He stated the reason the request for reimbursement was submitted to town was because it was the town that asked the BOG last fall to allow the town to take over the project in order to apply for provincial funding.

“So I’ve been waiting since last fall for an answer on if the costs incurred to-date would be paid.”

There were about seven consultations with the town and it took until 2017 to get a subdivision, to try to get a deal worked out with the town and finally get water issues resolved, Hahn says.

“I’m still awaiting the final revision for our offer we submitted in 2017.”

The water issues had been resolved by deciding to use cisterns instead of drilling for wells, which was problematic because it was on county land.

“If the cisterns were fine, then we fell off the tracks somewhere else and I guess it was the opportunity for grants.”

“I’m having a little bit of an issue here because actually, a lot of the information that you’ve just given is first-heard to me,” said Coun. Sandra Lyon.

“The fact offers have not been responded to and you’re still waiting for responses is not something I was aware of. My last understanding of this is that this was dead in the water.”

“I don’t disagree with Coun. Lyon but I also feel that the Town of Ponoka has not done their due diligence in respect to this deal and in that respect we owe the BOG the money for the engineering costs,” said Underhill, adding wherever the funds come from isn’t really the issue.

Hahn said that going forward, if the lot value of $45 per square foot is still honoured, then he will speak to the BOG members and talk to suppliers.

If the project can proceed it would probably be in the spring of 2020, says Hahn, but if the costs of the project have gone up significantly then he would ask council to reimburse the BOG for its costs to date as it’s taken three years to get to this point.

Council had asked the BOG to come back to discuss the issue at a strategic planning workshop meeting set for Aug. 21, before bringing the matter before council again on Sept. 10 for a decision.

However, the meeting was deferred until late September due to staff absences and the item wasn’t on the Sept. 10 meeting’s agenda, acccording to Sandra Smith, communications manager.

User fee rate increase

Town council voted Aug. 13 to increase the airport user fee by 2.5 per cent effective Jan. 1, 2020.

The airport runs a deficit of about $26,000 a year, and the fee increase will bring in $1,000 extra revenue a year.

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