Province approached Michelin on Waterville expansion
By Kirk Starratt
There may not be more answers on the Waterville Airport question, but there has been an opportunity for public input.
Kings County council hosted a public meeting Aug. 21 where several presentations were made regarding the potential sale of the municipal airport land in Waterville to Michelin for a possible plant expansion. Approximately 60 people were in the audience.
Michelin Canada president Dana LeBlanc said the province approached the company about two years ago about the possibility of expanding the Waterville tire making plant.
“For this site, what was suggested was if we were to expand the Waterville plant, we’d need to go in the direction of the airport, which I’ll call the northerly direction,” LeBlanc said.
Michelin owns about 270 acres of property in Waterville, including some vacant land around the plant. However, because of the product flow from west to east, for efficiency and productivity reasons, the company wants to expand to the north.
LeBlanc said the plant has been open for 31 years and it cost $200 million to build originally. Now, there is just shy of three-quarters of a billion dollars sitting in the plant, he said.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good track record in the province and particularly the Waterville plant and obviously we’re running out of space because we’ve filled it up,” LeBlanc said.
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Chris Daly, associate deputy minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism; said nothing is certain, but the province would love to see Michelin Waterville expand. That’s why it is working with the municipality to explore options for an alternative location for the airport.
Move a must
“In order for Michelin to expand, we know the airport will have to move,” Daly said.
Gordon Smith of CBCL, the author of the province’s Waterville Municipal Airport Relocation Study said consultants looked at four different locations, including 14 Wing Greenwood, as part of the relocation study. Other locations in Kings identified by the consultants have not been publicly divulged.
Smith said locations have to be kept quiet in order to avoid land speculation. He said they have a property identified in eastern Kings near Kentville and New Minas with room for the possible development of an airpark.
Kings County’s chief administrative officer, Tom MacEwan, said the municipality is awaiting a response from the Department of National Defence about studying the feasibility of relocating the airport to 14 Wing.
During the meeting, several representatives of the aviation community reiterated their opinion that moving to the base would not be the best choice. They want a location further east than Waterville.
Coun. Patricia Bishop asked Warden Diana Brothers to call a special council meeting to adopt the Waterville Airport Co-op’s July 28 policy statement on the topic.
“I believe you have the authority, Warden,” Bishop said.
Brothers said the meeting was for discussion and public input, not to make decisions, adding council would deal with the policy statement from the airport community at its Sept. 3 meeting.
Brothers said council expects to receive the report from MacEwan identifying two other potential sites in Kings where a 5,000-foot runway could be located for the airport during a Sept. 17 in camera session.
“This is something that requires considerable thought. It’s not something that you just run out and pick up an airport and relocate it,” MacEwan said. “It requires input from the stakeholders.”
The province’s relocation study stated a cost of $9.6 million to build a stand-alone airport. Smith said this doesn’t take into account land costs and it would cost an additional $2 million to build a 5,000-foot runway. The Greenwood option is expected to cost $6.7 million. There is no indication where the funding for the move would come from.
For additional coverage, see the Aug. 29 Kings County Register.