Brockton prepares for joint council meeting to discuss Saugeen Municipal Airport

BROCKTON – As the April 17 date for the joint council meeting to discuss the future of Saugeen Municipal Airport (SMA) drew closer, Brockton council had the opportunity to discuss Mayor Chris Peabody’s prepared statement.

Each member municipality of the SMA – Brockton, Hanover and West Grey - was asked to provide a statement prior to the meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Elmwood Community Centre.

The mayor’s statement begins by saying “SMA has been in operation since 1990 due to the dedication of volunteers and pilots. As a result of fiscally challenging years, municipal councils have been considering their role as stewards and balancing the services provided with the economic impacts of those services to all residents.”

The statement went on to say that the municipality has been approached several times by third-party individuals and investors wishing to buy the airport.

Brockton proposes two possible paths forward: “that the Municipality of Brockton’s share in the Saugeen Municipal Airport be sold to a member municipality, being the Town of Hanover or the Municipality of West Grey, or that the Saugeen Municipal Airport be sold to a private entity that would allow the facility to continue as an airport.”

Should neither of these options be chosen, Peabody said that Brockton “requests that the three municipalities renegotiate the agreement” for the SMA.

Coun. Carl Kuhnke, Brockton’s representative on the SMA commission, mentioned the minutes of the commission included in the agenda package. He described the latest information about the airport, discussed as part of a County of Grey “visioning study” and presented at the last airport commission meeting, about what the airport could be. The presentation indicated that, in Kuhnke’s words, “the airport could be very valuable if you built residential streets … with hangars attached to the houses, and you could taxi off the runway and into your house.” He described it as a fascinating, and prohibitively expensive, concept.

Kuhnke went on to say that none of the three municipalities has “$15, or $20, or $25 million to invest” in making SMA into anything other than a “small and useful airport … I think we’re on the correct road here.” He said the best scenario would be for a third party to operate the airport.

Coun. Tim Elphick said that at the council meeting when Brockton proposed selling SMA, he’d been the only councillor to oppose the sale. “My views are somewhat the same,” he said, noting the airport’s deficit has been reduced, and there are strong, new initiatives in place at the airport. He said he fully supports option three – no sale of the airport – but would allow enough time to pass “until we see what happens.” However, he said he definitely supports a new agreement.

Elphick said he’s not comfortable with Brockton “dispensing with its share” in the airport, although he added he was open with the concept of bringing in third party investment.

Kuhnke made a motion to present the statement as presented.

Coun. Mitch Clark said a reasonable offer would be something council should consider, and that a majority of council are in favour of sale.

Coun. Greg McLean asked what council is expecting from the meeting. “This is not a negotiation meeting. It’s kind of like, where is everybody.”

Clerk Fiona Hamilton agreed, saying it was “an opportunity for all three councils to hear from each other,” noting the other two partners have not officially replied to Brockton’s letter stating their views on selling the airport. The meeting is a chance for the three to get together, exchange ideas, and gather information. She said Brockton has a few steps to take before council can consider any future direction.

The motion, to present the statement as given, carried.

Following the meeting, Brockton’s statement, along with those of Hanover and West Grey, were posted with the joint meeting agenda on the Brockton website. Although Hanover remains strongly opposed to selling the airport to a third party, West Grey’s statement said the municipality would consider that option.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times