Aviators must accept 14 Wing Greenwood relocation - or else: four county councillors

Published on July 29, 2014

Four Kings County councillors say they believe recommendations that will be made at a special meeting July 29 are the end result of a ‘flawed and prejudiced process.’

A report circulated by chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan July 27 calls for the Airport Relocation Committee chaired by Paul Easson to be disbanded immediately and the request for proposals for the business case study to be pulled, according to a press release issued Tuesday morning by councillors Patricia Bishop, Pauline Raven, Emma Van Rooyen and Jim Winsor.

The four councillors say they have worked to ensure the aviation community is more fairly treated following the surprise vote on March 10 that called for the Waterville Airport to be closed Sept. 30.

The relocation committee was formed in early June.

“Now, instead of pursuing legitimate motions of council aimed at receiving direction from the committee and considering the results of a business case study, work not sanctioned by council has become the focus,” says Winsor.

According to Winsor, a relocation of the airport to 14 Wing Greenwood will be recommended and any examination by the public of other potentially viable, or more viable options, will be shut down.

 “I've watched communities across Canada fight to retain or enhance civil aviation airports because of their value as economic engines, but in Kings County, I'm instead witnessing a process that's clearly mired in political quagmires,” said Winsor, who was previously a senior manager of airports in northern Canada.  

Winsor said he believes fight for good governance is about to be lost in Kings County if council accepts the recommendations contained in the report.

“When legitimate motions passed unanimously by elected representatives are set aside between meetings it's clear to me that democracy is running amok,” says Winsor.

Winsor had previously said he believed another councillor sitting on the relocation committee was biased towards the 14 Wing site. Last week, council backed up Coun. Bob Best in a vote that stated he was not biased.

The report, circulated by MacEwan on Sunday, is an ultimatum to aviators, Raven said, describing it as, “Agree with this analysis, ready yourselves for 14-Wing, or get nothing.”

According to Raven, the CAO's report "cherry picks" from the independent CBCL report commissioned in 2012 to make an argument for Greenwood as the only viable option. “He misses a crucial point, arguably the most important one in the whole report,” says Raven, pointing to a statement located on page one of the executive summary that a new site in the eastern portion of the county was preferable due to its proximity to Halifax.

The press release states that concern of all four councillors grew as delay mounted and partiality emerged for Greenwood as the only or best option. Most were somewhat assured that the agreed upon decision-making process of both council and the relocation committee was being respected when at the last week's committee of the whole Best said he “had an open mind.”

Media statements by Warden Diana Brothers and Deputy Warden Brian Hirtle both advocated for 14 Wing.

“We have not treated the aviation community with the respect and dignity it deserves after decades of working with the municipality to keep a busy airport functioning relatively smoothly,” says Van Rooyen. “The flawed process that council has followed to date has created unnecessary angst and divisions when our focus should have been on building a strong partnership between ourselves, the community, the aviators and business people, including Michelin.”

Recent developments include litigation by several hangar owners and a movement by residents of Saxon Street to ensure that an airport would not spring up in their backyards, which are smack in the middle of the county's agricultural zone.

Bishop says the warden, deputy warden and CAO may be overstepping bounds with the release of Sunday's report.

“Council has not given any direction regarding the Greenwood option becoming the only option, nor have they requested any report in that regard,” she said. “Because there is no council endorsed direction to support this effort by our CAO, who is the CAO working for?”

Bishop was the only councillor to vote against the closure of the airport.

“I am hoping that at our council meeting on July 29, this report will be rejected and that council will confirm its commitment to the airport relocation committee as well as the business case study, that would represent a fairer, more transparent and more fiscally responsible process for everyone involved, said Bishop.

The special meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight in council chambers.