Sky's the limit for Huronia Airport as task force lands ambitious report

·4 min read

A two-hour presentation by the Huronia Airport Task Force was summed up inadvertently by community representative Roy Ellis.

“We actually need some direction before we go too far because we could be spinning our wheels,” stated Ellis, who no longer lives in the area, but has a hangar at the airport.

“If you have no desire to sell land, then c’est tout fini, it’s over. We will continue to operate the airport based on the mandate you’ve given us.”

Three North Simcoe joint-member municipalities were given the final report presentation. They include Tiny Township where airport CYEE is located, and the neighbouring towns of Midland and Penetanguishene.

The task force was established last year following a comprehensive business review of the organization, with three council members and four members from the respective communities comprising the seven-person task force along with additional staff involvement.

Ellis’ comment came near the tail end of the question-and-answer period between the various council members and the Huronia Airport Task Force.

The topic of land sale and land leasing was raised, with an additional explanation from Oshawa Executive Airport manager Stephen Wilcox who was brought in for peer review, expert analysis and consulting.

Wilcox was the primary source of information throughout the presentation, and noted that while other municipalities that had sold their airports could no longer control the fine details including management and revenue, the tri-party ownership of CYEE held tight reins on the intricacies such as selling valuable land space, like individual hangars, for prospects looking for commitment.

The oral report explained the strategic plan for the airport, the review and prioritization of governance and ownership models, economic development recommendations, fiscal considerations, support for the process, and a list of short-to-long range goals to 2040.

Emphasis was placed on the value of emergency transportation such as Medivac, police and military use. When cost was addressed, several instances were mentioned by Wilcox that put the price of human life above the pennies added to municipal taxes.

“The weather information is really important, and today is a great day,” said Wilcox pointing to the inclement snowy conditions of springtime in the regional snowbelt. “The helicopter is not landing at the hospital today; if there’s an accident, it’s landing at the airport.”

Calculated from the strategic development plan by Loomex Group in 2019, at the current municipal contribution subsidy of $140,187 with a shared population of 37,613, the annual per capita subsidy would average $3.72 per person.

“At $3.72 per community member, it’s well below an average across the province, and is a great limited-cost to your community members… in terms of essential service like the Medivacs,” Wilcox added.

Wilcox reiterated the sentence on a slide pointing out that the “social and economic benefit significantly exceeds the social economic costs."

Economic impact for the region was estimated at $3.3 million per year attributing 30 full time positions of employment.

The three municipal council representatives on the task force shared their thoughts: Coun. Cody Oschefski of Midland felt excited for potential synergy with Georgian College, local businesses and other partners; Coun. Gibb Wishart of Tiny had returned to the task force to find the machine running smooth; and Coun. Dan LaRose of Penetanguishene saw no downsides to the process and called it “a big turning point for all involved.”

Tiny Mayor George Cornell, who also the county warden, felt the airport was achieving an evolution, but expressed wanting to learn more of the opportunities, risks and benefits before making a council decision on the task force's 2022 initiatives.

“One of the things over the years we’ve talked about (is) we’re missing one of the members of North Simcoe,” admitted Cornell of the fourth regional municipality. “I think our challenge has been that we really haven’t had a value offering to take to the Township of Tay. I think that’s starting to come together here.”

Midland Coun. Bill Gordon, calling Tay “the elephant in the room here,” pointed out that if Tay couldn’t be enticed, “will they really get to enjoy the same kinds of benefits that the other three owners get, only they don’t have a penny invested – no skin in the game.”

Gordon remarked that if Tay couldn’t be courted, “then really we’re enjoying our own little echo chamber of how great this is for ourselves if we can’t sell it to anybody else.”

Further information on the joint presentation of the Huronia Airport Task Force final report was made available to Tiny, Midland, and Penetanguishene municipal websites following the meeting.

The two-hour presentation was recorded to be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53 and on the Rogers TV website, most immediately on Wednesday April 20 at 7:00 p.m.

Further information about CYEE can be found on the Huronia Airport website.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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