PHOTO: Dave Mellin inspects a de Havilland Beaver float plane being reconstructed at International Aeroproducts Inc., a widely known business in the aviation community located at the Courtenay Airpark
Courtenay Airpark Association members say City Council members don’t fully appreciate the depth of their concerns and were disappointed Mayor Larry Jangula didn’t “clear the air” and give them unequivocal support
The Courtenay Airpark Association told its story to City Council Tuesday afternoon, of how the aviation community benefits the community, as a means of ferreting out the city’s long-term intentions for the Airpark.
But council members either didn’t fully comprehend the association’s concerns or they are not as committed to preserving and supporting the Airpark as they were when writing the 2016 Official Community Plan (OCP).
Courtenay Airpark Association (CAA) President Morris Perrey hoped the meeting would give aviation business owners and private aircraft owners clarity about their future. Fears that the city is trying to close the Airpark run deeply through the association, and among pilots around the B.C. coast who use the airport.
He was disappointed that didn’t happen because of what appears to be a disconnect between council and city staff.
Council apparently thought the issue was only a third crossing proposal that would dissect the Airpark, when the real issue is what association members perceive as a broader, coordinated scheme of small steps to squeeze the Airpark out of existence.
FURTHER READING: Who is trying to close the Airpark?
In response to a presentation made by Dave Mellin on behalf of the CAA, several council members downplayed the so-called “Option B” in the proposed 2018 update to the city’s Master Transportation Plan.
That option shows a third crossing that runs a road through the Airpark and a new bridge through the middle of a provincially protected wetlands in the heart of the K’omoks Estuary, known as Hollyhocks Marsh.
Council member and mayoral candidate David Frisch said the 21st Street crossing idea was not much more than an arrow on a map.
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here,” he said, referring to, in part, the concerns of an overflow crowd of Airpark supporters spilling out of the council chambers.
Councillor Doug Hillian said he was as surprised as the association’s members to learn about the 21st Street proposal, and said he had no intention of jeopradizing the Airpark or the estuary.
“Sometimes mistakes are made,” he said. “This is one.”
Council members kept their remarks brief so Mayor Larry Jangula could read a prepared statement, which he prefaced by saying it would answer all their concerns.
Except it didn’t.
Jangula addressed the third bridge crossing by saying it was only a study and that no part of the plan, including the 21st Street bridge, would become reality without extensive stakeholder process and council’s approval.
But he did not say that “Option B” was off the table.
And he added a claim that no commercial or private tenants on the Airpark had been converted to month-to-month leases. The city was merely trying to align all the various leases to expire at the same time for administration efficiency.
That caused rumblings in the audience and prompted Mellin to contradict the mayor.
“We have several people in the audience who are on month-to-month leases now,” he said. “I can have them come up (to speak).”
It was obvious the council had misjudged the mood of the CAA and its supporters.
“The mayor had an opportunity to clear the air and put this to rest,” said Dave Bazett, a land surveyor who owns a building in the 21st Street path and hangars two aircraft that he uses for his land surveying business. “But he didn’t do it.”
Bazett said association members wanted to hear council say they will protect and encourage growth at the Airpark, as per their OCP, and “despite what pilots may have heard from staff, council supports you.”
“Instead, we got a rather aggressive statement (from the mayor),” Bazett said, adding that it seemed like Jangula was blaming staff for the disconnect.
And Bazett said in an earlier private phone conversation with Jangula, the mayor said the Airpark was going to get developed sooner or later.
Decafnation asked Jangula about that conversation, but he has yet to reply.
Several association members pondered whether city staff was going in a direction of shutting down the Airpark without the full consent of a divided City Council.
CAA President Perrey said that Courtenay Chief Administrative Officer Dave Allen told him, with two other association members present, that all leases were going on a month-to-month basis when their terms come up.
Allen is currently on summer vacation.
From the association’s perspective the monthly leases, the bridge proposal, denials of commercial building expansion and construction, red tape that has stalled float plane ramp reconstruction and other issues all add up to an effort to close the Airpark.
Perrey said the CAA didn’t get the clarity and unequivocal support they had hoped from City Council.
“This is going to be an election issue, for sure,” he said, reiterating a statement Mellin made during his presentation.