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Red Deer County debates airport funding

Council narrowly supports funding after questions raised about change in airport plans
Red Deer County council approved $1.37 million for Red Deer Regional Airport about much debate around its future plans. (Advocate file photo)

Key funding for Red Deer Regional Airport was narrowly approved by Red Deer County council on Tuesday.

A decision to confirm $1.37 million in funding in its 2023 budget passed in a split four-three vote, following a lengthy debate after more details emerged about a recent $30 million provincial commitment to airport upgrades.

It came as a surprise to county councillors that the provincial cash must be matched with $5 million by the airport authority, which would be split between the county and the City of Red Deer.

The airport wants the $5 million to go towards construction of a new passenger terminal, seen as critical to landing an ultra-low-cost passenger airline.

To make that happen, airport officials proposed scaling back a planned airport apron reconstruction project that was to be funded with $5.5 million over two years — split between the city and county and amounting to $1.37 million each per year.

Instead, $700,000 would be spent on doing an emergency apron repair and the rest of the combined money — about $2 million — would be directed to the terminal this year with further funding coming in 2024.

The sudden change in direction did not sit well with some on council.

“I’m really shocked by the ask here and the amount of money,” said Coun. Christine Moore. When the provincial funding was announced, she was reassured it did not come with strings attached, she added.

In light of the latest developments, Moore suggested the county defer approving its 2023 contribution until it met with city and airport representatives to get a clearer picture of plans going forward.

“I’m feeling really rushed here,” said Moore, who emphasized she remains a firm believer in the airport and its potential but believes more information is needed.

Coun. Lonny Kennett also expressed reservations about how the latest developments affected the airport’s future plans and supported a pause to get more information, a view shared by Coun. Dana Depalme.

“I’d just like to see a little clearer plan,” said Kennett. “I think we need some clarity here.”

Mayor Jim Wood said he did not believe delaying would provide much more information. “I don’t think we’re going to be any wiser in two weeks than we are now.

“The Red Deer airport is going through exciting times right now. We’re starting to see the growth we hoped for, for many, many years.”

It is important that the county signal its ongoing support to the airport and potential investors, Wood added.

Coun. Philip Massier also voiced his support for the airport’s plans saying the authority is only doing what the county asked it to do, “which is to do some long-term planning.”

The authority said previously it hoped to begin construction on the terminal this summer. It would take nine to 12 months to complete.

Over the next two years, the $30 million in provincial funding will be spent providing services, including fibre optic links to the land next to the airport slated for future development, as well as connecting Airport Drive with an upgraded Township Road 374 linking with C&E Trail to provide a second access to the north.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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