With the removal earlier in the day of a mile of spruce trees along the Ponoka Industrial Airport, Coun. Rick Bonnett was ready to push forward Feb. 22 with expansion of the runway and installation of an improved navigational system.
His fellow councillors did not share his enthusiasm.
With about three dozen people crammed into the council chambers, council voted to table discussion of Bonnett’s motion to expand the airport, and instead allow administration to prepare a report on the idea.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, Bonnett pleaded with council to delay removing the trees and instead consider only topping them if that would allow installation of a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) to improve navigation.
“Now that the trees are gone, I want to see us move forward, showing the people that we are moving forward with the system,” he said two weeks later.”
Bonnett wanted to re-open discussion of the municipal budget “to re-allocate funds from other areas to move forward with the WAAS navigation system in 2011.”
His motion also included lengthening the runway by 1,000 feet to 4,100 feet— the most possible without purchasing more land.
“We don’t have any budget for this whatsoever,” observed Coun. John Jacobs, who made the tabling motion.
Stan Baliant, director of property services, told council at the Feb. 8 meeting the airport’s long-term plan has always been to extend the runway at Labrie Field when commercial traffic dictates. He said it would take more than just paying an engineer to draw up plans to expand the airport; it might require installation of an altimeter, a weather station and a second runway in a different direction.
Coun. Izak van der Westhuizen wondered whether lengthening the runway would open the airport to accepting larger and heavier types of aircraft.
Baliant said the airport master plan identifies that with economic growth the airport runway would need to be increased. It’s not known, he added, whether the existing runway could withstand the weight of heavier planes.
Jacobs added it has been council’s intention that no tax dollars would be used to expand the airport.
Alberta Health and Wellness is expected to pay for the WAAS to allow fixed wing medevac planes to takeoff and land in Ponoka with patients for the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury although there is no known written confirmation to that effect.
Gallery not invited to participate
Mayor Larry Henkelman did not accept questions or comments from the crowd in the gallery, prompting an outburst from one man as he left the council chamber.
Later in the meeting, Jacobs told council the decision to cut down the trees has been “tough on all of us.”
He wanted to let the few citizens remaining at the meeting know removal of the trees on the same day as the council meeting was a coincidence and not done out of spite.