Smithers town council weighed the options, and at Monday’s council of the whole meeting supported applying for a Building Canada Fund grant to expand and upgrade the Smithers Regional Airport.
Staff estimated the cost at over $4.5 million. The grant if approved would see the federal, provincial and municipal governments splitting the cost three ways.
That puts Smithers’ share at $1.5 million. The town believes that loan could be paid off using the airport infrastructure reserve funded by airport fees, meaning no hit to the taxpayer.
“More and more, the airport is the access point for our community. It’s critical in terms of people’s quality of life, living here, being able to get to other communities; and it’s also critical for economic development,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach, pointing out sectors such as tourism and mineral exploration rely heavily on the airport.
“Regardless of the resource development we see on the books, it’s time to make an investment in the terminal building.”
Council met Monday night to discuss specifics on the application. A plan to deal with baggage area congestion raised the cost of the expansion.
Finding grants to pay for a $3.5 million south trunk storm sewer project and a $1.5 million lagoon polishing at the sewage treatment plant were also on the agenda.
Suggested airport work included adding 6,000 sq. ft. of building space on the south end of the existing 9,440 sq. ft. building, more than doubling passenger hold room seating from 54 to 118, new accessible washrooms, more efficient check-in, baggage handling and security areas, and renovations to the existing structure to improve energy efficiency.
The number of passengers at the airport has increased from 59,143 in 2000 to 82,768 in 2014.
“We’ve had an architectural study of the building [in 2013] and that study has shown us that we are at or beyond capacity right now, and we’re also trying to plan for 20 years into the future for what the community’s going to need in order for this airport to continue to serve the community,” said airport manager Rob Blackburn.
Council must decide if the grant was approved on how to get resident’s approval to borrow its project cost share: through an alternative approval process that stops the loan with a 10 per cent disapproval, or a yea or nay referendum with a majority decision. A referendum would cost slightly more money to hold, but Bachrach said he supports the idea as a way to better gauge residents’ support.