The B.C. government has weighed in, and there will be no more drag races at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.
Drag racers in Port Alberni brought a proposal to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board back in December, asking for a three-year lease to hold their annual “Thunder in the Valley” drag races in order to raise funds to build a permanent track in Port Alberni.
The quarter-mile drag races were held at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport for 15 years, but were moved and downsized to Stamp Avenue in Port Alberni after the airport runway was expanded in 2016-17. In the spring of 2019, the Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association (AVDRA) had been given the green light to return to the airport, when the ACRD board suddenly reversed its decision in an in-camera meeting.
The AVDRA chose to cancel, rather than holding the races on Stamp Avenue, due to a lack of space and a loss of funds.
Now, a Jan. 14 statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development says that previous races at the airport have occured “in contravention to an existing Crown Grant.”
In 1991, the statement explains, the province issued a Crown Grant to the ACRD for 112 hectares at the total sum of $1.00, for the express purpose of developing an airport.
“The ACRD were granted these lands in perpetuity at far less than fair market value because the development of an airport was deemed beneficial to the entire region, including the City of Port Alberni,” said the statement.
A reversionary clause was also included in the Crown Grant, which states that the land is to be “used for an airport including associated aircraft related commercial enterprises, subject to reversion if not so used.”
If the ACRD wants to use the airport for short-term commercial events, it must either cancel the Crown Grant and apply for a Crown land tenure or it must apply to purchase the lands outright at fair market value.
ACRD CAO Douglas Holmes said that this is the first time the province has reached out to the ACRD with regards to the drag races. Because the drag races have been held at the airport in the past, ACRD staff didn’t see any need to check with the province.
“We’ve talked to the province at other times on the work we’ve been doing at the airport,” he explained. “Historically, the drag races have happened there. The province has been aware of that.”
At an Alberni Valley and Bamfield Services Committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15, the ACRD board also discussed insurance, as the ACRD has exclusive insurance coverage for the airport. While the AVDRA could purchase insurance coverage, there would be a “logistical insurance challenge” in the event of an emergency landing at the airport.
After receiving the statement from the province, ACRD representatives met with members of the AVDRA on Wednesday morning to discuss the future of the Thunder in the Valley drag races.
“[The AVDRA was] obviously disappointed,” said Holmes. “They were hoping we were able to run it there, and hoping the board would allow them to do so.
“Now we’ll regroup and get together again to explore how we could get this event going in the future.”
Dave Beecroft, vice president of the AVDRA, says that the group is now looking for a temporary location for a drag strip so that they can raise funds to build a permanent track. They have identified several potential locations, but are choosing to “keep things quiet” until a decision is made.
“The city’s been unreal,” he said. “The mayor has been really helpful, and so has the ACRD. I think they’ve figured out that Port Alberni wants a race track. Now we’ve just got to figure out how.”