By Kirk Starratt
It might be a temporary reprieve, but the long-term future of the County of Kings municipal airport in Waterville is still in limbo.
Waterville Airport Cooperative board chairman Walter Isenor said a $73 million announcement by Michelin North America on Jan. 17 includes a 3,000 square meter assembly-building expansion. However, this expansion will be to the west, and not onto the neighbouring airport property to the north.
“They aren’t touching the airport at this point,” Isenor said. “The real decision is to come. In the long term, Michelin might want to come north.”
Isenor said what was announced wasn’t what most people expected. It’s good news in the sense that it isn’t a final decision on the airport, but it’s a double-edged sword in the sense that everything is still up in the air for future operations at the current 94-acre airport site.
The airport is still in jeopardy, he said, and there is little the board and management can do about a lingering cloud of doubt.
Last week, the airport had two calls last week from people out west wanting to build hangars at the site, an investment that would represent a tremendous boost for the airport. However, no one wants to make such an investment while uncertainty about the future remains.
When a consultant’s report studying the feasibility of relocating the airport for a possible Michelin expansion is made public and announcements are made, he said, then it will be clear where the airport stands. The $82,000 report has been completed and is in the province’s hands, but Isenor said he understands it contains sensitive information and must be generalized before being released publicly. Isenor said it could be at least mid-February before anything from the provincially-funded report is made public.
Isenor said the major question for him is who has the kind of money it would take to relocate the facility. He doesn’t believe the municipality does and it isn’t known if the province or Michelin would be willing to cover costs.
The consultants were tasked with identifying three alternative sites and providing cost estimates for each potential site. The consultant will recommend a preferred site and provide a business case, including economic impacts and benefits and relocation costs. The process included exploring land usage and zoning in the surrounding areas and meetings with airport stakeholders, including 14 Wing Greenwood.
In 2007, the annual economic spin-off of the airport to Kings County was estimated in excess of $1 million.