Plans to spend as much as $20.7 million on upgrades and equipment at the Dawson Creek Regional Airport over the next five years have some city councillors scratching their heads.
While none of the funding has been approved, figures for the airport alone in the five-year financial plan have the potential to double the city's debt load, currently sitting at $36.8 million.
The plan met opposition from two councillors at a recent meeting.
"Why do we need an airport?” -Coun. Mark Rogers
Coun. Mark Rogers said he would have a hard time supporting upgrades, claiming there was a lack of evidence demonstrating how the airport will benefit Dawson Creek.
“How can I possibly support this?” he asked. “I am trying to find ways of supporting it. (Show me:) this is why it’s going to be cost effective, this is why it’s going to be an asset. I want to see the metrics. Why do we need an airport?”
The money is earmarked for a number of upgrades, including $15 million for the runway, the largest portion of which would be an expansion for larger aircraft. Drainage upgrades, a new HVAC system, upgrades to tower controls, a terminal walkway cover and sidewalk upgrade, runway sweeper and other ground improvements have also been identified as needs.
Coun. Terry McFayden, the city’s lead on airport affairs, said these upgrades are needed to keep Dawson Creek an attractive spot for businesses. The airport is also a hub for medical aircraft in the region, he said, supporting over 250 each year.
“It’s part of our infrastructure,” he told the Dawson Creek Mirror. “This (oil and gas) downturn is going to go away and any company that looks at coming here, looks at the airport. We’re constricted now because anybody with a jet will not land here.”
Whether or not the airport would support large aircraft is another question, McFadyen noted.
Both Rogers and McFadyen said more regional support is needed from other communities in the South Peace like Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge.
Height restrictions on buildings would likely need to be extended if a larger runway were approved, Rogers added.
“How much land around the airport are we going to sterilize?” he asked.
“We already have two airports (in Grande Prairie and Fort St. John). They’re an hour away. Why do we have to have another one?”
Mayor Dale Bumstead said all decisions on spending will be made by council.
“It’s a five-year plan,” Bumstead said. “Things go in, things come out.”
According to Chief Administrative Officer Jim Chute, operational spending at the airport from the city has totalled $8.8 million over the last five years. Revenues over that same period were $5.2 million for a net taxpayer subsidy of $3.6 million.
Over the same five-year period dating back to 2011, capital upgrades at the airport totalled over $700,000. A provincial grant of around $52,000 left the contribution from Dawson Creek taxpayers at $652,721.
The five-year financial plan calls for small increases in operational expenses, but “dramatic” increases in capital expenses, Chute said.