The airport expansion was the News' top story of 2015. Clockwise from top right; a C-130 sits at the airport in the summer

2015 Top 5: Airport expansion

The Alberni Valley Regional Airport expansion was the News' top story of 2015.

In a year like 2015, full of upheaval and political drama, it’s hard for any one news story to stand out.

Government decisions often fly under the radar, with few people paying attention until something goes wrong.

But the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s decision to borrow $6 million to extend the runway at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport was on everyone’s radar from mere suggestion till final approval.

This year was certainly not the first year that the idea of expanding the airport was brought up but it was this year when the ACRD went to the voters to ask for their permission to borrow up to $6 million.

Opinions on the expansion went in and came from every direction. On one hand, extending the currently  3,952 by 75 foot runway to 5,000 by 100 feet would allow for bigger planes to land.

It would change the runway classification from 2B to 3C—in layman’s terms, that increases the size of permissable passenger planes from nine to 40-seaters.

“That would include anything from a Dash 8 to a Shorts 360 to high-speed jet traffic,” said ACRD airport superintendent Mark Fortune at the time.

“It would also allow it to accommodate the Coulson’s C-130.”

It was the C-130s that got the Alberni Valley riled up and the proposed expansion dubbed “Coulson’s expansion.”

“Why do the taxpayers, who are already overtaxed, have to pay for this? Where’s Wayne Coulson’s contribution?

“He’s the only one who’s going to benefit,” Dyan Lover said as the alternate approval process got underway this summer.

Wayne Coulson has certainly benefitted from this explansion.

Coulson Aviation signed a deal with Airbus allowing Coulson to retrofit their C295s with water and retardant tanks for aerial firefighting.

The C130s that Coulson had signed a deal with Lockheed Martin for earlier could also now land here when full, rather than only one empty.

Despite the volume of protests and the debates on social media, the airport expansion passed the test. Only 303 of the necessary 2,500 voters registered their opposition to allowing the ACRD to borow up to $6 million.

Many of those in favour said that an expanded airport would allow for all sorts of new, commercial and passenger traffic from shipping to industry.

Currently, the airport expansion process is waiting on grant funding. In a worst case scenario, if the ACRD does not receive a single grant the average homeowner will have to pay $23 more in taxes over the next 30 years. The expansion is due to be tendered out in January 2016 and work to be completed by the end of August.

But while everyone in the Valley hopes that extending the runway will lead to an economic boom for the region, there is always a downside.

The ACRD terminated its contract with the Alberni Valley Drag Racers Association in December due to a conflicting constructions schedule. Instead, the City of Port Alberni has picked up the slack and Thunder in the Valley will roar down Stamp Avenue in 2016.

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