Friday August 22, 2014

Airport decision hits turbulence

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Yorkton Council’s decision to install its members only to the Yorkton Airport Authority has one of the Authority’s first members disappointed.

Ron Evinou said when the YAA was created, it was done as a way to give the facility some direction and vision over the longer term by having people with an interest in the airport having a say.

“Back around 2006, we said go it alone, take ownership of the airport, put an authority in place, build a professional plan,” he said.

And Council did that by establishing the YAA with members appointed by the Mayor and approved by Council.

“Together, we built professional plans and standards, became the best in the Province of applying for grants and we raised $2 million which we spent, half on runway lighting and half on runway surfaces at our community airport,” offered Evinou.

“No significant money had previously been raised in decades. We had a very successful record of raising money.”

Evinou said the YAA was successful in large part because of its make up. He explained the YAA is an incorporated body and creates a level of accountability for the City and airport management.

Directors are drawn for core competence, one tenant, one council member, and directors all appointed by the Mayor.

“The airport is regional and the board was charged with guiding operation of an airport for the community,” said Evinou. “A good board guards against special interests. This board was strategic, built plans professionally for the future and portrayed a picture of the airport, which gave us friends in Regina and Saskatoon airport authorities. It gave us credibility when we met WestJet in Calgary, but their planes are too big.”

“Over seven years a litany of powerful brains saw fit to volunteer, they never got a penny for their time. But they delivered visionary direction. Each served at least a year, many served three or more, we never had a problem with attendance.”

But the volunteer voice has been quieted with the recent change to having only Council members sit on the YAA.

Mayor Bob Maloney said the move was made after a “couple of issues came to Council” involving the airport, one being a lack of interest from the Authority to continue to have the annual Kambusters Car Club drag races at the airport.

Maloney said Council also recognized the City was the major source of funds for the airport handled through the YAA.

“We’ve invested $600-$700,000 out there the last three years,” he said.

As the funding agency, and with some concerns arising, Maloney said Council decided to take the reins.

“As a Council we felt we needed to have more control over what was going on,” he said.

Evinou is not convinced the Council decision is a good one for the airport in terms of a vision for the facility looking toward the future. He said it is important for those with a vested interest in the airport as a facility and from the larger community to have a voice at the table.

“In my view, very vocal and persistent special interest groups are exactly why you have a board. Politicians listen to them and try to please them,” said Evinou.

One example is having a dedicated YAA to lobby for things such as regularly scheduled passenger service.

“The stakes are high. If we in Yorkton can get 500 passengers a year to buy tickets and fly to and from Yorkton, we will qualify to ask the federal government for funding,” said Evinou. “Then the city only has to find one third of the costs, instead of passing the costs onto the residents and they get a commercial airport.”

Evinou said a progressive airport is essential for a growing community, and a YAA dedicated to the facility is a must.

“Progress has come to our region and the community needs an airport,” he said. “Money arrives on airplanes and those who ignore that fact are steering the community wrong.”

In that regard the Council decision is a step backward for Evinou.

“It’s pretty easy to shut down criticism, tougher to make it right,” he said. “… I am sure none of us felt the Mayor and City management could just “shut a corporate body down”. That doesn’t seem right. And it doesn’t sit right with a lot of people in the community.”

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