Council circles airport trees issue again

  • Feb. 16, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Termites might take down the stand of 100 spruce trees next to the Ponoka Industrial Airport before town council does.

Two weeks after council re-affirmed its position to remove the 40-year-old stand of trees between Highway 2A and the runway at Labrie Field some town councillors were backing down.

Coun. Rick Bonnett offered the Solomon-like solution to only topping the trees if that would allow installation of a better global positioning system and save the trees from being felled.

The field and runway should be surveyed to determine for certain whether the trees need to come down to allow for a lower altitude approach from incoming planes. Removing the trees would allow pilots to land with lesser degree of angle on descent.

“Do the trees have to be taken right out?” Bonnett asked.

Build it and they will land

Their removal would also allow for the use of Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). WASS helps aid the Global Positioning System (GPS) with the goal of improving its accuracy, integrity, and availability. WAAS is intended to enable aircraft to rely on GPS for all phases of flight, including precision approaches to any airport within its coverage area.

Stan Baliant, director of property services, said the town’s long-term plan has always been to extend the runway at Labrie Field when commercial traffic dictates.

“It is not the town’s intent to pay any money toward putting in the WAAS system,” he said.

Alberta Health and Wellness is expected to pay for the system to allow fixed wing medevac planes to take off and land in Ponoka with patients for the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, he said, but “we better have our runway and our airport ready by the time they say it’s going to happen.”

Coun. John Jacobs, who was absent when his colleagues voted Jan. 25 to cut down the trees, wanted a conference call arranged with Dean Zimmer, superintendent of aerodromes with Transport Canada in Edmonton. Jacobs had been given a letter that indicated Zimmer did not feel removal of the trees is necessary to address safety concerns nor to permit installation of the WAAS system.

That call was to be arranged for 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 11.

Council has received contradictory information from pilots and residents for more than a decade about the need to cut down the trees but Bonnett said council may have “jumped too fast, too quickly,” and wanted to hear more public input.

“If we’re going to do these kinds of things we’ve said we’re going to be more transparent,” he said. “We need to have a public discussion on all these things before we make a decision.”

Coun. Izak van der Westhuizen said council made its decision with the best information available and suggested it could “take another 12 years” to remove the trees if council keeps waffling.

“If you’re not going to lengthen the runway, and you’re not going to improve the terminal, what’s the point of cutting the trees down?” Bonnett asked.

Mayor Larry Henkelman reminded council the reason for removing the trees has always been a safety issue.

The matter is expected to resurface on council’s Feb. 22 agenda.