Concerns aired at community meeting on Saxon Street airpark proposal

John Decoste
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More than 100 attend town hall meeting in Canning

The future of an airpark proposed for Saxon Street may be up in the air, but it’s a hot topic of interest for area residents.

An estimated 120 people, many of them concerned area residents, attended a town hall-style meeting held by the North East Kings Citizens Group July 17 at the Canning Lions Hall.

Jim Petrie, a sheep farmer who lives on Saxon Street, made one argument against the proposal. The airpark proposal, he said, calls for Phase 1 to be a 3,500-foot runway, with room to expand. He is concerned that a 3,500-foot runway “would terminate approximately at the edge of our property.”

A consultant’s report suggests a 5,000-foot runway would be better suited wherever the Waterville airport is relocated.

“It makes me wonder at the possibility of our land being expropriated in the future.”

Petrie said, adding he’s made a significant investment in his operation over the past three years.

“I would hate to have spent all that time and money for nothing.”

In trying to grow his operation and purchase more breeding stock, he feels his hands are tied by all the uncertainty.

“I don’t want to spend time and money on a project that may be in jeopardy,” Petrie said.

Use of this land for an airpark instead of agriculture, he said, “is, in my opinion, a misuse of a valuable resource that is in finite supply.”

 

Aviators feel “sold down the river”

Canning-area resident Scott Burbidge is an aviator and member of the Waterville Airport Co-op. He said aviation community “felt sold down the river” by the decision to close the airport, so they “decided to assert ourselves,” he said.

“We’ve left no stone unturned in our efforts to save the airport and keep it operating until Michelin announces an expansion,” he said. “Michelin has said nothing to this point. We have all lost, or stand to lose, a great deal of equity.”

Burbidge said none of the aviators are opposed to an economic investment that will provide jobs.

“We are opposed, and will continue to be, to an agreement that leaves us poorer out of pocket,” he said.

 

Environmental concerns

Acadia biology professor Soren Bondrup-Neilsen spoke on environmental concerns, adding, “I feel like half a farmer and half an academic.”

Bondrup-Neilsen’s comments centered on food security, healthy farmland and the potential impact of the proposed airpark on wetlands and wildlife. How, he asked, “can we balance private ownership with public necessity?”

Birds, he said, fly back and forth over the Minas Basin area to feed.

“They fly right over Saxon Street and this proposed site,” he said.

He described the Minas Basin as a hemispheric shorebird reserve and “an area of international significance.” He touched on noise issues, the potential decline of property values, and eco-tourism issues.

“There are economic benefits, but there will be economic costs as well,” he said.

 

Concerns mounting

Questions from the audience centered on the noise potential for local residents, especially in the case of larger planes; the need to relocate the airport at all, given its ideal location and the fact that Michelin has announced no plans to expand; and allowing for the use of valuable agricultural land for commercial purposes.

“I’d like to see everyone here help us keep the Waterville airport alive,” said aviator Gerard Killam. “It’s highly unlikely Michelin will be able to expand. Why this decision to close has been made is a mystery to me.”

Habitant resident Doug Hickman felt there was a fair amount of confusion around the issue.

“It sounds like they’re trying to do this behind our backs,” he said, adding that while  that may not be true, “it’s certainly the way it’s coming across. I’d expect better from our elected representatives.”

 

Protest to continue

Speaking after the meeting, Bondrup-Neilsen, spokesperson for the citizens Group, said he was pleased with the turnout.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We had well over 100 people here tonight. There were lots of good questions, and lots of good information shared. The possibility of working together here appears excellent.”

Evening facilitator Niki Petrie urged those in attendance to keep writing letters to their elected representatives and sign a petition that was being circulated. “We want to make sure the community is engaged, and everyone is on the same page.” 

Organizations: North East Kings Citizens Group

Geographic location: Saxon Street

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  • Mike Gourd
    July 19, 2014 - 04:41

    Waterville airport must remain open until a suitable replacement is built and is operational, at a suitable location.