At a special meeting March 10, Kings County council agreed to close the municipal airport effective Sept. 30, 2014.
Councilors voted 10-1 in favour of the recommendation, moved by Deputy Warden Brian Hirtle and seconded by Coun. Wayne Atwater. District 10 Coun. Patricia Bishop cast the only dissenting vote.
As part of the recommendation, the county will make the airport lands available to the province – or to Michelin – as soon as possible, taking into consideration the timeframe for the closure of the airport.
The recommendation stated that the county “recognizes that its primary concern is enabling Michelin to expand its operations at the Waterville plant.” It also “remains committed to working with the province and Michelin Canada to ensure that any obstacles to expansion are removed in an expeditious manner.”
The county agreed to undertake a business case study for a new municipal airport with terms of reference acceptable to council, provided the province funds the total cost of the study.
Current tenant hangar owners will be permitted to remain on the premises until such time as the hangars can be moved to a relocated airport.
If the county’s decision is that a new airport not be established, it will provide notice of termination for all existing leases.
In speaking against the motion, Bishop stressed she “very much supports the economic activity we anticipate,” and was “very much in favour“ of the proposed Michelin expansion and the economic benefits it will likely create for the county.
However, she voted against the motion because “I fundamentally do not support the process by which we have reached this end.”
Bishop added, “we need to address how we are to deal with such complex changes.” The motion, she said, represented “one set of options, but there are others.”
Councillors Jim Winsor and Pauline Raven both supported the motion, but both said they had reservations in doing so. On the one hand, Winsor said, “I’m glad to be moving forward, and I applaud council for its willingness to work with business.”
Winsor stressed, however, that he “felt between a rock and a hard place” in supporting the recommendation as presented, but said, “I feel I have no alternative but to support this, though with some reluctance.
“What we’re doing,” he said, “will bring hardship to a portion of our community, but I’ll be supporting it because it’s the only thing we can do.”
Raven said she would be supporting the motion, but added, “I feel it will pass whether I support it or not.”
Her hope, she said, was that “as we go forward, we can all work together to come up with an excellent results for all concerned – a strong Michelin, and an airport that can help us move into the future.”
The remainder of the debate on the recommendation took place during a nearly two-hour long in camera session. Several members of the local aviation community attended the meeting and stuck it out through the lengthy in-camera session.
Bill Young voiced the opinion of many of the aviators in attendance when he said, “Your decision to close the airport at such an early date is regrettable.”
The decision, he said, “was made without the input of the aviation community,” and the owners of some 25 aircraft “that will now have nowhere to go.”
He urged council to reconsider – not the decision to close the airport, but the decision to do so this coming September.
“Extend (the closing date) to September 2015, when the current contract with the airport expires,” he said.
“We’re all in favour of the Michelin expansion, but I feel bad about the way it’s been handled.”