The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board of directors voted unanimously to award the tender for the Alberni Valley Regional Airport expansion to Bowerman Excavating for $4.16 million. They were the local low-bidder.
“It’s huge for our economy, it’s huge for the future of our community and it means that a whole number of projects that are on the drawing board for that airport will be able to happen, as well as whatever may come in the future,” said Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan.
Projects on the drawing board include “helicopter repair, Hercules conversion into watertankers, air ambulance using jets and a whole lot of potential including the replacement aircraft for the Buffalo.”
Airbus, who according to Wayne Coulson are considering a base of operations at the newly-expanded airport, have expressed interest offering up their planes to the contract to replace the C-115 Buffalo transport and rescue planes. If they did, the proximity of the Alberni Valley to 19 Wing Comox Air Force base in the Comox Valley could mean good things for the Alberni airport.
City of Port Alberni economic development manager Pat Deakin said he was thrilled with the decision.
“It will create more work in the community and it will really lay the basis for an expanded aerospace industry,” said Deakin.
“The number of contracts that the Coulson Group will be able to go after and the economic development office is also going to go after a number of firms that we think would do well out at the airport.”
Deakin said he’s heard of opportunities that have been missed out on due to not having a suitable airport.
“One prominent individual chose to buy a farm in the Comox Valley rather than in the Alberni Valley because the airport runway wasn’t long enough for his jet,” he said, adding he wasn’t able to find out anything concrete.
A national sporting organization is currently being courted to come to the Alberni Valley for an event, Deakin said but declined to give more specific information.
The decision was made at a special board meeting after the office of federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi asked the board to delay the tender by two weeks in order to allow the minister more time to gather possible funding for the project. All other grant applications for the project have been denied although the ACRD is applying to the B.C. Air Access program for funding for runway lighting.
Ruttan said he was disappointed in the decision made by senior levels of government.
“There’s some real disappointment that neither the federal government or the provincial government have stepped forward, even though they’ve had ample information and ample opportunity to do so,” said Ruttan
“From my perspective, I’m wondering what the messaging is that’s going out to both levels of government and why they’re responding the way that they are. What is it that we can do to change that messaging? Maybe there is a problem with the way we’re approaching them, I don’t know. If there is, I’d sure like to find out and make the necessary changes.”