The Fairmont Hot Springs Airport will likely not close at the end of this month.
Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) directors voted during their meeting last week to commit $60,000 in funding to the Columbia Valley Airport Society for the airport, subject to a number of conditions.
The Fairmont Hot Springs Airport has been operated by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort for decades, but this past fall the resort released a press release indicating it would cease running the facility by the end of this March. The Columbia Valley Airport Society sprang into action with the intent of figuring out a way to keep the airport operating, but there were few public, on-the-record indications of progress in the interim. The issue heated up in the past few weeks, with the March 31 deadline looming. Invermere council turned down a request for funding at its Tuesday, February 25 meeting, saying the request was better directed to the RDEK.
The RDEK board discussed and voted on the matter at its Friday, March 6 meeting, approving operational funding of $60,000 from the Columbia Valley Economic Services area funds.
“The important thing to consider is that this board recognizes the value of this airport from a public safety perspective,” RDEK Area F director Susan Clovechok told the Pioneer (Area F is the part of the RDEK in which the Fairmont airport lies), outlining that this includes the airport’s use for medical evacuations — and its capability for this use under a variety of weather conditions — as well as its use by the B.C. Wildfire Services to fight fires throughout the East Kootenay each summer.
“That is why we’re making this move,” said Clovechok, adding the directors agreed to the funding “despite many unknowns.”
Those unknowns concern the structure, makeup and expertise of the society, all of which are addressed by what Clovechok termed the “lengthy list of conditions,” which the society has five months to meet if it is to secure the funding.
The conditions include: that an annual general meeting be held with audited 2019 financials; election of a new board and officers that represent the Columbia Valley geographically; using a skills matrix to recruit qualified board members and ensure proper oversight of the society; that bylaws be updated to prevent any single business, corporation or not-for-profit organization from holding a majority of votes on the society board; that a fully-costed business plan be prepared; a professional assessment of assets completed; and an operations/procedures review and work plan be prepared.
The society has until August 14 to meet these conditions.
“I believe it is unlikely that the airport will shut down (on the March 31 deadline) as a result of this commitment of funding. It will likely continue to operate, while the society meets the conditions,” said Clovechok.
Clovechok cautioned that, although the original documents pertaining to the matter have long since likely been lost, it is her understanding that Fairmont Hot Springs Resort entered into an agreement with the provincial government decades ago to operate the airport, and that this agreement expired in 2016. She added the resort has approached the RDEK a few times in the past few years over the issue.
“They decided it is not conducive to their success to continue operating the airport, but in the meantime it’s become an important community asset,” said Clovechok.
The Columbia Valley Airport Society was due to have a meeting earlier this week, just as the Pioneer went to press.
The Pioneer requested comment from several society members on the matter, but all indicated they preferred to wait until after the meeting. Stay tuned to future issues for a follow up.