Mayors and chiefs from northern Alberta communities said they will fight any plan to shut down Edmonton City Centre Airport, a public hearing in the provincial capital heard Tuesday.
About 60 people are making presentations at the two-day public hearings on the future of the airport, beginning Tuesday at Edmonton city hall.
The city estimates it could make $500 million if it closes the airport and sells the 217 hectares of land for redevelopment. A report released in June estimates the land could accommodate 32,000 homes and earn the city an additional $95 million a year in property taxes.
But leaders from northern communities say closing the airport could have a detrimental effect on the quality of health care for their residents.
Medevac flights land at the airport because its location immediately northwest of Edmonton's downtown core is much closer to the city's two largest hospitals than the international airport, which is 30 kilometers south of the city.
"If we had to add another leg to that — transport to the international and helicopter back into Edmonton — people will simply die," said George Schmidt, mayor of High Level, a town 780 kilometres north of Edmonton.
Schmidt's concerns were echoed by Chief Roxanne Marcel from the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which is based in Fort Chipewyan, north of Fort McMurray.
"We don't have the health-care system in our community, so that's very important. That's why we continue to fight every time the topic comes up with the airport being closed," she said.
The Mikisew Cree may take legal action against the federal government if the airport closes, on the grounds that Ottawa has a treaty obligation to guarantee access to health care, said Dale Monaghan, chief operating officer of the First Nation's group of companies.
"The treaty actually includes transportation to urban centres that offer medical services that aren't available in the remote areas," he said.
Monaghan said he wants Ottawa to come up with an alternative plan for the band's medevac plane. The airport in Saskatoon might be a better and quicker option than Edmonton International Airport, he said.
The hearings on the future of the airport continue Wednesday. Edmonton city council will make a decision at a later date.