By Kirk Starratt
If a recent motion by Kings County council is a promise to sell Michelin the Waterville airport land, the airport must find a new home. The only other alternative is closure of the Kings County Municipal Airport.
Waterville Airport Co-operative board chairman Walter Isenor said he isn’t sure if the county’s formal commitment to the tire company adds to uncertainty in the airport community around the site’s future or helps alleviate it. However, “at least we know what’s going on,” he said.
At an Aug. 13 meeting, county council formally committed to “divesting” itself of the municipal land if Michelin wants it for an expansion.
“We don’t know much more than that,” Isenor said. “If that’s a promise, we have to find another place.”
Isenor said the co-operative has been going on the assumption the airport would move since the province commissioned the Waterville Municipal Airport Relocation Study last year. However, the co-op has been given no timeline for moving the airport or a possible acquisition of the land by Michelin.
He said he’s received different messages on the probability of the Michelin expansion, but airport stakeholders can only go on what the company says. The airport co-op remains supportive of Michelin making an investment in Kings County and creating more jobs, Isenor said, but it wants the county’s help in finding a suitable new location for the airport.
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The location would need to have flat land where a 5,000-foot runway, running in an east-west direction, could be constructed. Preferably, the site would be on the Valley floor, east of the current location and have room for future growth and business investment. Isenor said Aug. 16 the airport co-op had a meeting scheduled with the County of Kings later that day to discuss land requirements for a move.
A meeting with the airport co-op was set for Aug. 16, Isenor said he felt something was happening, quickly, but said he would be surprised if the option of moving the airport to 14 Wing Greenwood would fly.
Isenor said the best land options would involve agricultural land, which could present a political challenge for county council. There also remains the question of who would pay for the move. The county has said it doesn’t have the money, so it would have to come from other sources.
The provincial report estimated it would cost $9.6 million to relocate the airport to a standalone site, plus $2.33 million for an upgraded runway. The estimated cost of relocating to 14 Wing Greenwood is $6.7 million.
Isenor said a silver lining to the cloud of doubt is the opportunity to relocate the airport. It represents a chance to build a good airport and really develop it, he added.