Details emerge on proposed new airport for Inverness

The picture is getting a little clearer on a proposed new airport for western Cape Breton, but questions remain.

Ben Cowan-Dewar, co-owner of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses in Inverness, is ending weeks of speculation after word leaked out about the proposal.

This week, he said the airport would go on Crown land off Campbellton Road, about five kilometres northeast of town.

Cowan-Dewar said it would cost $18 million, split between the federal and provincial governments.

He said the golf courses aren't funding the airport because it would be a public benefit.

Golf courses wouldn't benefit immediately, says proponent

"If this was about building a private strip for private planes, which it isn't, then I think we would consider that, but this is really about building a commercial airport for commercial traffic to come to western Cape Breton Island," Cowan-Dewar said.

A new airport wouldn't benefit the golf courses right away because they are already booked solid, he said.

However, it would bring more tourists in to support area businesses and attractions in the meantime, and that would be good for the golf courses over the long-term, Cowan-Dewar said.

That's just sort of a well-known tourism fact, that obviously the less time you spend travelling, the more time you spend doing things. - Ben Cowan-Dewar, co-owner of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs

"This is a piece of public infrastructure that helps get our product, our world-class tourism product, to market," he said.

The golf courses have applied for funding under the rural and northern communities stream, but no decision has been reached yet.

They have received some high-powered backing from former provincial premiers of all political stripes, and from businesses and others, through a website called BuildCapeBreton. They've also been placing ads in newspapers and online to gain public support for the project.

Opponents have also been lining up, including the Town of Port Hawkesbury, the Margaree Environmental Association and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Many people — politicians, local residents and others — have wondered about the economic justification for a new airport.

Cowan-Dewar and supporters posted a business case on the website last week, touting the supposed creation of 600 jobs and specific tax and economic benefits.

But the business case did not say how the numbers were generated.

Cowan-Dewar said he's open to discussing the numbers, but did not have them handy on Tuesday.

Looking for sources

He couldn't cite any specific studies or sources that suggest tourists who fly in closer to the golf courses would stay in the area longer and spend more money.

"That's just sort of a well-known tourism fact, that obviously the less time you spend travelling, the more time you spend doing things," Cowan-Dewar said.

The Town of Port Hawkesbury owns the nearest airport, which is about an hour's drive from Inverness.

Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said she wants to see the underlying data in the Inverness airport business plan.

Tom Ayers/CBC

She said a new airport would harm the existing ones in Port Hawkesbury and Sydney.

Chisholm-Beaton is promoting a collaborative effort to stop the Inverness proposal and get more investment in existing facilities.

"I think that working together is the way that we grow the island," she said.

Inverness County council is also looking for details on the airport proposal.

Cowan-Dewar said he expects to be at that council's first meeting in August.

No consultation

Meanwhile, Indigenous officials in Cape Breton say they haven't been consulted on the proposed airport.

We'koqma'q First Nation Chief Rod Googoo said he hasn't been approached about the proposal, and neither have other chiefs.

"I noticed in their business plan they say that the profits would be shared by First Nations," said Googoo.

"There has been no discussions in that regard. Not to my knowledge, anyway."

Tom Ayers/CBC

Googoo also said he can't see how the proposed airport would make a profit.

Morley Googoo, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said he's in favour of infrastructure development in Cape Breton, but he said he also has not seen the airport proposal or been consulted on it.