The civilian airport at Waterville will close this fall to make way for a possible $500-million Michelin expansion.
Kings County councillors voted March 10 to close the Waterville Municipal Airport on Sept. 30 to make the land available to be bought by the province or Michelin Canada.
Councillors voted 10 to 1 in favour of the move during a special meeting to ensure there are no obstacles in the way of a potential expansion at the plant, which manufactures tires for large trucks and earthmoving vehicles.
Michelin has not confirmed any expansion. Company officials have said that because of the layout and location of its equipment, the only possible area to expand is to the north on land occupied by the airport.
A business case study will be done for a new airport, with terms of reference to be presented to council at its regular meeting of committee of the whole in April, said Warden Diana Brothers.
The municipality wants the province to pay for the study. A meeting between the municipality and the province is planned to discuss options for moving forward with the sale of the land, she said.
The former NDP government paid $100,000 last year for a consultants’ study to examine the possibility of relocating the airport.
“This isn’t the end of the line for the airport so long as there is a positive business case to support relocating it,” Brothers said.
“The province has made it clear that they won’t make any commitments to funding the relocation without the benefit of a detailed assessment. We owe it to the citizens of Kings County to be sure this is an economically viable option.”
Brothers said if the study shows an airport can be sustainable and self-sufficient, the municipality will support the tenants and work with the province to find a new location for it.
“We can’t stifle a chance for economic growth. If we wait to move the airport first, which could be one or two years down the road, we may miss an opportunity with Michelin.
“By making the land available now, we are showing that Kings County is open for business and eager to grow.”
The province and municipality asked 14 Wing Greenwood for a feasibility study to locate a civilian air park there, something expected to cost about $7 million. The Waterville airport co-operative wants a location closer to Halifax that could cost up to $15 million.
Bill Young, an aviator who owns property at the airport, said council’s decision to close early is “regrettable.” He urged council to wait until September 2015, when the contract with the airport expires.
Brian Goldie owns the Greenwood Flight School, along with an aircraft maintenance centre there. The closure will affect his business, which employs a dozen people during peak season.
“It means that come Oct. 1, I will have no place to operate, and it means having to close down,” he said in an interview Monday.
“I don’t blame council for having to make that call. If this (Michelin expansion) works out, it’s going to be a win situation. But I’m hopeful that the powers that be are not going to forget us.”
Goldie is not sure if he will reopen in a new location.
“I can’t sit around for six months. Without continuity, it will be very hard to keep going. Already we’re losing students.”
Brothers said the 38-hectare site has been consolidated into one property and a title search completed. Council endorsed putting money from the sale of the land toward the costs of relocating the airport.
“The next step will be for the province and Michelin to identify the exact requirements of the property that they need,” said Brothers. “Then it is up to them to decide when they are going to purchase it and what the price is going to be.“