Strong support for airport initiative

November 13, 2018 7:36 am
Kevin Weedmark

Jeff St Onge says there has been strong support from local municipalities for the proposal to make improvements to Moosomin’s airport that would allow the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance to better serve the area. The air ambulance currently doesn’t land at the Moosomin airport because of the lack of lights and a paved surface.

St Onge and Dr. Schalk Van Der Merwe have spoken to the Moosomin Chamber of Commerce, town councils and RM councils across the area and have been encouraged by the response so far.

“We’re approaching half a million dollars in pledges and commitments from the municipalities, and we’re still trying to get around to all of the RMs,” St. Onge said Thursday.

“Yesterday I had a meeting with Walpole. This morning I just got back into my office from Silverwood. This afternoon I’m in Wawota for the RM of Wawken and later in the afternoon I’m in Maryfield for the RM of Maryfield and then after that I still have Rocanville RM, the two RMs in Manitoba are scheduled—Wallace-Woodworth and Ellice-Archie—then I’m going to speak to the RM of Antler.

“When those meetings are done, and SARM and Agribition are done, we’re going to have an airport committee of all of these people from each RM and or town and or village and put them all together in one room and say how are we going to do this?”

The committee is hoping to raise as much funding as possible through local municipalities, have that matched under the provincial CAPP program for airports, then raise any additional money needed from corporate donors.

The group has met with the provincial government to see if it would be possibly to increase the limit on the matching provincial CAPP funding for airports, currently capped at $70,000 per year.

“On Monday we met with Minister (Lori) Carr,” said St. Onge. “She is the minister responsible for highways and infrastructure and two of her people were there as well and they looked at the proposal. We just wanted to make her aware of what we’re looking fore here, and that we put in a request for more money to be put in CAPP because there are three big projects coming up—Moosomin, Moose Jaw and North Battleford are three communities with projects that are trying to get the maximum for the program.”

St. Onge said the meeting with the minister went well.

“She and the officials we met with were very knowledgable—they were very, very helpful in moving forward and what we would need and our next steps.

“Her home riding is Estevan so she fully understands how hard it is to get to Saskatoon, so she was very, very good.

“We had sent in a detailed proposal and she was absolutely up to speed and she had read it. She already knew what questions she wanted to ask. I was quite encouraged by her understanding and support.

“Having said that, no financial commitments were made in that meeting and of course she can’t unilaterally make those, but I know that we have an advocate in her.”

He said the main point of the meeting was to push for an increase in the CAPP limit.

“If there was an actual action item for that meeting, it was to make a request to have that CAPP funding increase so it can handle multiple projects around the province.

“The limit is $700,000 per year, which doesn’t go far in a major airport upgrade. It used to be $500,000, so it has been steadily growing. I know one of the things we had asked about was there is that federal infrastructure money in that $90 million dollar range per year for the next ten years. I asked if that would free up money in other areas and she said no, unfortunately it ties up more money because some of that money needs to be matched at the provincial level. I just know after our meeting that we have an advocate there, and between her and the two guys that were there I know that if it is possible to help us out in any way shape or form, they will do it.”

What are the next steps for the aiport proposal?

“One of the next steps is to define what it is we actually need,” says St. Onge.

“Every time in the past they’ve looked at the airport, there have always been two proposals on the table—lengthen and pave the runway, or make a new one and pave it.

“Right now we have to define which of those two is the method moving forward, then go out to engineers, get engineered drawings and then just start down the path of making it.

“In terms of the CAPP grant, which is the Community Airport Partnership grant, that is at $700,000. We have all of the funds in place right now to maximize it.

“We are going to look very good because one of the criteria they use is about community involvement, and ours would encompass 12 RMs and towns and villages. So I think we’ll have an attractive looking proposal to help us maximize the grant. So things are progressing nicely.

“We are calling the airport committee meeting for that first week in November, and then from there we want to be able to talk to engineers and put a proposal in place and make sure we have our CAPP grant filled out for the end of March of next year.

“These would be the options—do you maximize the CAPP grant over four years and not have the runway for four more years or five years, or do you just roll up your sleeves, find as much local government, municipal money and corporate donations, and then two years of the CAPP grant, and just do it in two years.

“If the idea is to get equal access to centralized health care services, then the two-year plan is the one that makes more sense. That is the one we are pushing for.

“We either hope to hammer it out at that meeting, or have them go back to their own committees, then come back and determine what they’re prepared to put in.

“We want to get the municipal commitments as quickly as possible, so we know our starting point, we know what our potential matching funds would be, and we can start talking to our potential corporate partners.”

Why have the committee members been working so hard on this proposal?

“There is the economic side of it and that’s important to some, and there is the health side of it which is important to everyone,” says St. Onge. “In my case, my youngest daughter flies for Saskatchewan Air Ambulance and she expresses on her end that when calls come in from Moosomin, they know it is not one they can service. On her end she is very disappointed that there is an area in the province that they can’t serve the way they would like to.”