Inverness councillor wants to ground Margaree airstrip development

The possibility that further development of an airstrip along Cape Breton's Cabot Trail could be abandoned in favour of a larger facility in Port Hawkesbury is causing some tension among Inverness County councillors.

It came to a head during Monday's regular council session when Coun. John Dowling introduced a motion that council drop its support for the Margaree airstrip. The site is owned and managed by the municipality.

"It's an airstrip. It's been undeveloped for years," said Dowling, who represents an area that includes the Port Hawkesbury airport.

Taxpayers money should be devoted to needs other than the Margaree facility, he said, such as bringing in cellphone service in areas where there is currently none. He said the Port Hawkesbury airport, which is managed by the town, serves the Strait area and could do the same for all Inverness County.

'Very premature'

County council has previously voted to spend $3 million on the Margaree airport if it could secure the same amount from each of the other levels of government. But provincial and federal funding has not been forthcoming.

Dowling's motion on Monday was tabled. That's because council would have to rescind a previous motion that supported the development before it can vote on a new proposal.

The councillor for the Margaree area, Laurie Cranton, said Dowling's motion was "very premature."

"I think more study has to be done," he said, suggesting that the airstrip in Margaree has advantages of its own that could make it attractive to travellers.

"You're basically landing next to the Cabot Trail; and to access all of the communities and the beauty of the Cabot Trail right there," said Cranton.

He conceded that Port Hawkesbury, as an industrial area, has the inside track on attracting business people visiting the heavy industry firms around the Strait area.

He could live with Port Hawkesbury having the only airport in Inverness County, he said, but only if that decision is made "fairly" and "after all the facts are analyzed."

Councillors will be looking at all the possibilities before the next meeting in June, he said.

In the meantime, Port Hawkesbury has signed a letter of intent with Celtic Air Services, an airport management firm.

The company has plans to increase traffic at the site and construct a visitor reception centre and a large hangar facility this year.

As for the Margaree airport, Dowling hopes council will make a decision sooner rather than later.

"It may come down to the point that maybe it's time for the residents of Inverness County to decide," he said, suggesting that a referendum might be the way to go.