The annual Thunder in the Valley drag races have received tentative approval to return to the Alberni Valley Regional Airport for 2019.
After a lengthy process, including two committee meetings and one board meeting, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board has given the Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association (AVDRA) the green light to hold their annual drag racing event at the airport for one year—pending an agreement between AVDRA and ACRD staff.
The proposal was first approved by the newly-formed Airport Advisory Committee back in March, then brought to the Alberni Valley and Bamfield Services Committee on Wednesday, April 24.
Despite recommendations from ACRD staff, which suggested that races could “shorten the life” of the new airport infrastructure, the committee voted to approve allowing the races on the runway for 2019.
AVDRA representative Roger Haggerty said on Wednesday that the association’s ultimate goal is to build a track separate from the airport, but they first need to build up some funds in order to accomplish this. Holding the races at the airport will allow the association to raise more funds, as opposed to Stamp Avenue, where they “just break even.”
The drag races have received an outpouring of community support for their return to the airport. The ACRD received more than 20 pieces of correspondence prior to Wednesday’s meeting—only one letter suggested denying the application.
Director Wilfred Cootes recommended approving the proposal for a single year. “It’s a one-time ask,” he explained. “They’ve done all the mitigation for our concerns. They’ve moved forward in the manner that we’ve asked them to. It’s short term, so the damage and the effect that it could have on the runway is going to be very minimal.”
He added, “If we want economic opportunities and economic benefit for our community but we keep chasing away the events that are happening in our community, we’re not going to create that environment where more people are going to want to come.”
The request was then passed on to the afternoon’s ACRD board meeting, and faced a weighted vote based on community population. Sproat Lake Director Penny Cote was the only one who voted against the motion, as the representative of the area where Thunder in the Valley will be taking place.
“I do hear from my constituents about the disruption that happens in their lives when this happens,” she said. “I have listened to the recommendations from all the reports…I don’t think it’s the right location for the drag races to go forward.”
ACRD CAO Doug Holmes confirmed that he expects there will be some effect on the taxpayers. ACRD staff will work with the AVDRA to determine exactly what the impact will be.
“If it’s exactly the same model on which the report was predicated on, we fully expect to see approximately a $5,000 shortfall, borne by the taxpayers,” he said.
During the morning’s committee meeting, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions voted against returning the drag races to the airport, based on staff’s recommendations, but voted to approve the motion the second time around.
“Although I didn’t support the resolution this morning, I think that the Alberni Valley and Bamfield Committee made a clear decision,” she explained.
Going forward, staff will draft a comprehensive use agreement with the AVDRA, which will be brought back to either the board or the Alberni and Bamfield Services Committee to be approved. ACRD staff will also continue to work with the AVDRA on finding an alternate location for future drag racing events.