The Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association said it was blindsided by a decision late Wednesday to deny use of the Alberni Valley Regional Airport for Thunder in the Valley in August 2019.
“As a group, we are extremely disappointed with the decision of the ACRD to decline the request of the AVDRA to return to the regional airport and resume the Thunder in the Valley drag races this year,” association president Rockey Filipchuk said in a statement released to media.
“We were blindsided by this decision, after we were led to believe that this was a done deal, as we felt we had met all their demands and requirements. Two committees had recommended that we be allowed back at the airport and at the 11th hour we were denied.”
Dave Willis from the AVDRA said the association found out about the reversal in a press release e-mailed to members and to the media following Wednesday’s (May 8) ACRD board meeting. Both Dave Beecroft and Ben Veenkamp had made a presentation to the ACRD earlier that afternoon, outlining the items they were asked to comply with.
Willis said representatives from the drag racing association met with airport manager Mark Fortune last week for a tour of the airport and that the tour “went very well.” He said the association was under the impression the ACRD’s lawyer was drawing up a contract for them to sign to go forward with the races.
“We have no idea why it was turned down. The ACRD wanted us to respond to what they wanted us to do,” Willis said. “We think we did that.”
The ACRD board concluded its regular meeting and held an in camera meeting, which is private. In camera meetings usually deal with land, labour or legal issues. Following the in camera meeting, the board announced via e-mail it was denying use of the airport for drag races.
John Jack, chair of the ACRD, said he understands the decision and the way the vote was handled are not popular.
“Information had been brought forward in the in camera meeting,” he said. That information, which he said he wasn’t permitted to share, had an impact on the vote.
“I can say it was a very difficult decision and one that had considerations on the legal nature and the status of the airport itself,” Jack said.
Jack said it was legal for the board to make such a vote during an in camera meeting. “The legality doesn’t mean it’s necessarily popular, and I acknowledge that.”
Because the vote was carried out in camera, Jack said he was not permitted to reveal how each person voted, nor the specifics of the conversation.
He did clarify that the only people allowed to vote on airport matters are those who pay into the airport: essentially, the Alberni Valley minus Bamfield. None of the First Nations directors nor the west coast area directors were permitted to vote. The same would happen with decisions made on the Tofino-Long Beach Airport: representatives from Port Alberni would not be permitted to vote on that airport.
Willis said they are still examining their options for running the drag races this year. It’s getting close to a deadline to make a decision, he said.
Willis said the AVDRA has a tentative deal in place with the city to use Stamp Avenue for this year’s Thunder in the Valley event. He said they haven’t been able to connect with San Group over use of their property beside Catalyst Paper for parking.
AJ Cheema, VP of corporate affairs for San Group, said the drag racers will have access to their property as in past years.
“We’ve already told them they can go ahead if need be,” he said.