The pending closure of the Kings County Municipal Airport in the Waterville area is creating controversy in communities across the Valley and beyond.
The expansion of the nearby Michelin plant has been talked about at Kings County Council for two years now. Council has said the company needs the land to facilitate a future, but never publicly discussed, expansion. Earlier this year, council voted in favour of closing the airport as of Sept. 30, and a proposal floated by councillors Pauline Raven, Patricia Bishop and Emma Van Rooyen to strike a deal with Michelin that would allow users to continue to operate at the existing site until Michelin required the land for site work was shot down by the rest of council.
However, the chorus of voices opposing closing the airport at all appears to be gaining strength.
Word that council has been presented with a proposal from the Waterville Airport Co-operative to relocate the airport to privately-owned farmland in Saxon Street in Canning has locals riled up and generated unrest in the community. Kings County Warden Diana Brothers has said council has yet to review the proposal for an airpark being circulated by Gordon Squires, chairman of the Waterville Airport Co-operative, which could include a 3,500-foot runway with room to expand, a terminal building, hangars, RV spaces, residential homes and hangar lots.
Locals are justifiably concerned about the impact of putting an airport in prime farmland and to wildlife, particularly populations of migratory birds.
At Kings County council’s most recent meeting, Ernest Cadegan said he was “gobsmacked” by the notion of an airport in Canning and the North East Kings Citizens Group is vowing to fight the possibility. They say it should be moved somewhere that isn’t prime farmland or left where it is. Its members are to be credited for getting ahead of this issue, which has the potential to alter their community.
Squires says the site was chosen because of two existing grass landing strips used by the property owner. He says the group respects farmland and will replace any that it uses as an airpark. While the co-operative would prefer the airport not be moved at all, he says it’s imperative that it’s located in the eastern part of the county and not at 14 Wing Greenwood. He believes moving it further away from the population base of Halifax will spell economic ruin for the airport.
The Annapolis Valley Flying Association, comprised of local and out-of-area airport users, also recently started pushing back against council’s March 10 near-unanimous decision to close the existing airfield. A Save the Airport Campaign will soon be launched to educate the public and municipal politicians about the economic value of the airport.
The group’s effort is valiant, albeit a bit late, perhaps. The initiative might have had more weight if introduced when county council members first started their airport closure discussions.
When it comes to evaluating economic value, can the flying association demonstrate that economic spin-off from a facility with several small businesses with close to 20 employees can rival the potential addition of hundreds of new jobs at one of Kings County’s largest employers?
It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that Michelin is unwilling to be more forthcoming about its future expansion plans. This leaves Kings County looking like it supports an unsubstantiated “what-if” scenario over the current viable business model that sustains the local municipal airport.