Monday, August 19, 2013

Prince Rupert Airport to be discussed at Council Monday night

The future, both immediate and long term for the Prince Rupert Airport will be the subject of a fair amount of discussion at Prince Rupert City Council on Monday night.

And early indications suggest, that user fees could possibly be on the horizon for travellers out of Prince Rupert's Digby Island airport.

The short term will feature review and discussion by Prince Rupert Council, regarding a loan to the Airport Authority for some upgrades to the Airport's infrastructure, with a runway paving project, terminal upgrade and improvement to the road to the Digby Island Airport Ferry all on the to do list for YPR.

Prince Rupert Airport Authority President Maureen Macarenko will outline the airport's plan for upgrades to the Digby Island facility when she makes a presentation to Council this evening.

She makes her presentation at the beginning of the council session, later in the same session, Council will give consideration to the Bylaw that could authorize the loan Agreement with the Airport Authority.

A process that would require the use of an Alternative Approval Process, or by way of referendum to approve the proposal, before submitting it to the province for approval.

The basic overview of the project is as follows:

The runway portion of the planned airfield rehabilitation project will require that the Airport authority to only have to pay 5% of that project, as the balance of the cost is paid for by the Government of Canada.

However, some of the other aspects of the overall plan will require large scale funding, with the Airport Authority making it's case for the financial planning.

The budgeting for the entire capital project for the airport was detailed in Monday's agenda, among the key numbers Airfield surfaces $600,000, Airport Access Road $600,000, Airport Terminal and ancillary buildings $5,100,00, Contingency $700,000 all for a total of $7,000,000.

The financing cost based over a  twenty year Debenture Financing plan, would see the 7,000,000 dollars borrowed, with annual repayments of $488,500.

The City report suggests that there should be no property tax increase involved in the project as the Airport Authority intends to place a user fee to all travellers to pay for the rehabilitation project, the amount of that proposed user fee was not disclosed in the course of the report for council.

It highlights the age of the airport and the need of renovation to meet projected growth in the region (growth that at the moment they don't believe the airport could handle) as well as to bring the facilities into safe working order.

The nature of the loan and what the Airport hopes to do with the money is explained in a fair amount of detail as part of the Agenda Package for Monday's council session, you can look over the facts and figures here from pages 93-98 of the Agenda.

And while council considers the short term infrastructure requirements for the airport, the longer term future for the facility will also be the subject of some discussion tonight as well.

With Council looking to move forward its desire to see the airport designated as a regional operation, with the City looking for neighbouring communities to share in the cost of operations.

The Agenda once again provides a fair amount of background on that proposal, outlining the cost of operations that stretch beyond the terminal building, with the Airport Ferry and it's dock also a major financial burden that the city at the moment faces alone and clearly would like to share.

Towards the goal of a more balanced financial approach to the airport, Council will be considering a number of options this evening, some of which the local communities that the City is seeking to bring on board may be a little hesitant to take on.

The first option is to add a user fee to the airline ticket that directly attached fee for service. The estimated fee for service, based on 2012 passenger numbers would be approximately 14 dollars per passenger.

The City's report however, does acknowledge that such a fee may deter people from using the airport, perhaps giving travellers cause to use the Terrace airport, or to not fly at all.

Option two would see the City negotiate a service fee with the Regional District which would be recovered through property taxation, which would see the Regional District remit an amount to the City of Prince Rupert to share the cost of airport access.

While option three would have the City enter into a cost sharing agreement with the neighbouring communities based on budgeted annual costs.

The share of the cost would be based on the most recent Stats Canada census shared proportionally among all communities.

One imagines that the "neighbouring communities" most likely would prefer to see the city pick a solution that would leave their taxation base alone, making the discussion paper a rather interesting exercise, but one that is probably going to be a bit controversial moving forward.

The report also suggests an alternative method of cost sharing, one that would have the Regional District take over the Airport Ferry, its docks and the road to the airport.

The goal of that from the City's point of view being, that the airport would truly be established as being regional infrastructure with regional benefit.

The full review of the Regionalization discussion paper prepared by City Manager Robert Long and Deputy Corporate Administrator Corinne Bomben can be found from this link to the Agenda pages 89 to 91

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