Airport plan making progress

Municipal commitments coming in, provincial grant applied for, federal grant application in the works, discussions ongoing with corporate partners

April 22, 2019 7:48 am
Kevin Weedmark

A plan to upgrade Moosomin’s airport to allow it to be used by the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance is making progress.

Funding commitments are coming in from local municipalities, a provincial matching CAPP grant has been applied for, an application is being prepared under the federal infrastructure grant program, and discussions are ongoing with corporate partners about funding to make the expanded runway a reality.

The proposal to build a longer, paved runway and add lights is partially to accommodate the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, which transports patients from southeast Saskatchewan to Saskatoon for certain medical procedures.

Jeff St. Onge, who has been instrumental in the efforts to get the airport expansion off the ground, said Thursday that he is happy with the effort so far.

“In terms of the fundraising from the municipalities, there is about $675,000 worth of commitments so far, but there are still some large players out there that have had to do their budgeting and have not made a firm commitment at the moment,” he said. “Our belief is that we will get $1,250,000 from the local municipalities, which cover a larger area—Maryfield, Fleming, Martin, Spy Hill, Wapella, Walpole, Town of Maryfield, Silverwood, Rocanville, Wawota, Moosomin, Whitewood, Ellice-Archie, Wallace-Woodworth. Some have talked of contribution. Some of these are firm and their commitment has already been made as a resolution, some are a handshake agreement because you have to start somewhere.”

St. Onge said the airport committee is hoping to receive some funds from the provincial CAPP grant for airport capital spending.

“The province puts $700,000 into the fund and then you can pull out as much as $275,000 in a given year,” he said. “Having said that, we know that a lot of hands go into that cookie jar. We never know what that funding will be, so we will wait and see how that one comes out. Those are matching dollars.

“In order to do that, you had to submit engineered drawings and what the plan would be, and we had hired Stantech, an engineering firm, and they came out and put boots on the ground and did soil tests and came up with a 30 percent engineered drawing, a class c quote—a quote that could be over by 25 per cent or under by 25 per cent, so plus or minus in that range.

“We also had them put a set of drawings together. We had them do two drawings—one lengthening the existing runway, which is straight east-west, and the other one would angle to the northwest to avoid cross winds and work with the prevailing wind. That runway would require land purchases, so we’re beginning the process of talking to land owners.”

St. Onge said the northwest angled runway is the preferred option.

“On a windy, icy day in the winter, you have greater availability if you are landing into a head wind than dealing with a cross wind,” he said. “The cross wind will push you off of the runway in those icy conditions, but if you are heading into the wind that won’t happen.

“Another reason for making it the preferred orientation is you have alternate runways when you are flying. If you are coming into Moosomin and you can’t make Moosomin, you want to find the nearest available runway. Well if we go with the existing 0826 runway (oriented east west), Virden is 0826, Brandon is 0826 and Moosomin, if we expand the existing, it is 0826. We are a back up for each other because we are all oriented the same way.

“We’ve had consul-tations with the land owners but haven’t started the process of saying ‘okay now that we’re in favor of it, how do we make this a reality,’ so we still have to do that. We are not positive which one will go, but we do have a preference.”

St. Onge and Dr. Schalk Van der Merwe had a meeting with Saskat-chewan Transportation Minister Lori Carr about the CAPP funding.

“Dr. Van and I went in to to see Minister Carr to let her know about what we are doing in the area and to see about getting more money put into the fund,” he said.”I know of three places that want to dive in for the full $275,000, so that is already over the amount that is in there, so there are a lot of hands in that cookie jar.

“Having said that, I do believe that we check a lot of the boxes. It is about how many partners do you have in here, and we’ve got 15 RMs and towns and villages that are looking at making a contribution. So we have a very large partnership on this one, so I think that will look favorable on what we’re doing, and just the sheer importance to put an airport into Moosomin and surrounding areas, because that will have a pretty fair draw for both business and for the health care side of things. I think we look very, very good.”

He said the air ambulance is the main motivation for the airport project.

“The primary purpose for doing this is to make sure that we have a runway capable of bringing in Saskatchewan Air Ambulance to get our critical care patients for pediatric patients and/or stroke patients into Saskatoon in a very timely manner,” he said. “Calm air flight times from Moosomin to Saskatoon are 49 minutes, so we can put our people where they need to be, in the Children’s Hospital or in the stroke ward in a timely manner. When I was talking to Jim Thompson (head of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance) he said it would have a one hour radius draw around here. So this would pull in stroke patients from a fair distance. But to do that it has to be available.

“Sask Air Ambulance came out in January. They flew out and landed here for a visit. The availability of the current runway—there are no lights, so we are down to a 50 per cent runway because it is dark half the time and you couldn’t land today (Thursday) or probably for the next five days because of the softness of the runway.

“We have a 20 per cent availability here, and that is nowhere enough for it to be consistently used. That would be the primary part of putting that into place, or that would be my motivation.

“The other part, it would bring in $2.4 million worth of economic value to the area per year, and that was from a 2002 ministry evaluation of how much economic benefit a com-munity receives from an airport translated into 2018 dollars.”

St. Onge estimates the cost of the project at $4-5 million. “$4 million to $5 million would put an appropriate runway in here,” he said.
Besides the municipal and provincial con-tributions, corporate partners will be vital to making the project a reality.

“We have had very productive talks with Nutrien and they’re very excited about the project and want to be a part of it,” St. Onge said. “We’re thrilled about that. Between the municipal commitments and the CAPP grant and Nutrien, we are very confident that this is a project that will move forward.

“The other portion is the Canada Infrastructure Program. I have started the application process with the RM of Moosomin, and we will have that application in by April 30. It’s a two-part application process. The first part is submitting an expression of interest, which is where we’re at right now.

“The plan, if it all works the way we want, would be to get our fully engineered drawings this summer, and then go to tender in the fall, put aggregate on site over the winter, next spring open up the land, do your cut and fill, build the runway, pave the runway, so we would have the ability to land a plane by the end of summer next year.”