Smithers residents have given town council the green light to borrow money to expand the regional airport by not really saying anything at all.
The 30-day alternative approval process ended last week, with only three registered voters putting in their disapproval to borrow the money — which is far below the threshold needed to stop it.
“I think this shows there is strong community support for the project,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach.
“I’m really pleased with the outcome and looking forward to seeing the project take shape over the next couple of years.”
Councillors decided to go with an alternative approval process instead of a referendum vote to get taxpayers’ permission to borrow the $3 million because it is significantly less expensive to do it that way.
The Town held an alternative approval process to borrow money for the project last year but because of a small error when conducting it, it had to be redone.
“However, redoing it occurred around the same time as a discussion about the scope of the project and after hearing from the architect and staff about the proposed revised scope, council chose to increase the borrowing amount from two million to three,” said Bachrach.
So, he explained, the funds either had to come from somewhere else to add to the project or redo the AAP anyways to ask to acquire more money.
The Smithers airport terminal was built in the 1960s and is in need of upgrades. While the runways can accommodate larger airplanes, they have to go to other airports because the terminal can’t accommodate aircraft with more than 54 seats due to the small size of the passenger holding area. The check-in, security, baggage handling, holding room, passenger queuing and cargo storage areas are also much smaller than the recommended standards.
The project includes building an additional 6,000 square feet to the building. It will also see the passenger holding room increase to allow for 125 passengers, the check-in and baggage handling areas will be improved and the fire suppression, alarm and electrical systems will be upgraded as well as the boiler and HVAC systems will be updated.
The total cost of the project is budgeted at $8.17 million, but the town only needs to come up with $3 million because the federal and provincial governments will kick in most of the rest.
The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako has also commited $400,000 to the airport.
“I think a lot of people are really excited about the project. Some of the deficiencies of the current terminal building are really evident to travellers that use it, particularly the lack of washrooms past security and the overall size of the hold room,” said Bachrach.
“I think people are excited about those aspects and recognize the airport is such a critical asset to the community. Whether you are talking about economic development or quality of life for people who live here, it is a critical piece of infrastructure.”
The Town is currently inviting tenders from qualified contractors to bid on the project. The tender closing date is May 18. Bachrach said the hope is to start the project this spring or early summer.