Questions over the Regional District of East Kootenay’s decision to fund the Fairmont Hot Springs airport arose during last week’s Invermere council meeting.
Invermere council had already been approached by the Columbia Valley Airport Society for funding, which council members had declined, saying it was instead a regional matter. The RDEK board of directors, as reported in last week’s Pioneer, committed during their Friday, March 6 meeting to one-year funding of $60,000 to the airport society, subject to a lengthy list of conditions.
During Invermere council’s Tuesday, March 10 meeting, councillors sought more details on the deal from Invermere mayor (and Invermere’s RDEK board member) Al Miller.
“I just wonder what it is that we the public taxpayers are buying with that $60,000?” asked councillor Gerry Taft.
Miller indicated it was not a decision the RDEK board made lightly, and responded to Taft’s query by saying that the conditions attached to the funding are detailed (see last week’s Pioneer for the full rundown), require a sound business plan, and that the society would need to make good on “deliverables” in that plan if it is to get funding beyond the one-year $60,000.
“There was a lot of discussion (at the RDEK board). The society has a lot to figure out before August 14 (the deadline for the conditions to be met),” said Miller, adding that the society had asked for two years of funding, but the RDEK board was only willing to commit to one year of funding.
Taft pressed further, asking if the society will be required to keep statistics on how many flights come in, how many are medical evacuation flights, how many are flights used by the B.C. Wildfire Services, and how many are second home owners flying to their vacation homes.
RDEK directors cited the medi-evac and firefighting flights in their decision to go ahead with the funding.
“I understand that there are medi-evac flights and firefighters landing there, but how many? It would be good to know, if we are committing public funds to the airport,” said Taft, adding he’s heard rumours of landing fees not being scrupulously collected and that “the idea that the public may be subsidizing private jet landings doesn’t sit well with me.”
Miller responded that there were, and still are, many unknowns that the RDEK directors were uncertain about, but that at the same time they recognize that medi-evac and firefighting flights are important, adding that’s why the list of conditions was as long as it was.
“It’s a Catch 22,” said Miller. “Do the (RDEK) directors wish they were put in this situation? Absolutely not. But a line’s been drawn in the sand and we have to figure out what to do with this asset.”
Councillor Ute Juras asked Miller if he thought all the conditions could be meet by the August 14 deadline, and whether the RDEK would give the funding if some but not all of the conditions were met.
Miller replied that he wasn’t 100 per cent certain, but added that a majority of the RDEK directors had faith that the conditions could be met.