The Georgian Bluffs Township Council in Ontario has voted to accept offers for the purchase of Wiarton Keppel International Airport until Oct. 14. According to Bayshore Broadcasting the airport was declared surplus earlier this year and that allows it to be sold. The township bought the facility in 2015 for $600,000 and was aware that it needed millions in maintenance and upgrades. The township has done some crack sealing and patching on the runway but it needs replacing and that seems to be the tipping point for council.
The estimate for the replacement is about $6 million and the township’s finance director said that, and continued operating costs, will put the total cost of the airport at about $8.7 million over the next five years. “When we purchased the airport in 2015 we were aware capital upgrades would be needed to the runway,” Rocca told township councillors. “Other than doing some crack sealing and patching, we have not really put any sort of investments in the runway since we’ve owned it.”
Airport supporters told council the facility pays the community back in terms of access for air ambulances and as the home of a communications hub for air traffic control and Coast Guard emergency calls. Retired doctor Laura McNamara said access to air ambulance service is vital. “The value this brings in achieving better health outcomes for people needs to be noted,” she says. “But it won’t be seen on your accounting spreadsheet.” Brian Reis told the meeting there’s a room at the airport housing the ATC radio gear and there is also a remote monitor for distress calls from vessels on the lake. There is also a manned Environment Canada weather station. “In the event this property sells or is closed down as an operating airport, none of this equipment can be just unplugged and moved down the street and plugged in again,” Reis says. “It’s extremely important for aviation and marine safety that this equipment is available 24/7, 365 days a year. In other words, another complete system would have to be operational first so if the Wiarton system is taken down, the new system can take over immediately.”