Airport group says it has enough signatures

A group pressing to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport open says it has received enough signatures on a petition to force a public vote.

A group pressing to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport open says it has received enough signatures on a petition to force a public vote.

Envision Edmonton says they wrapped up their weekend blitz by getting more than the required 78,000 signatures to put the airport's future before voters in the October municipal election.

The group's chairman, Charles Allard, plans to give the petition to city officials on Thursday afternoon.

Volunteer Dean Braithwaite told CBC News they hope to have more than 90,000 signatures by then. He believes they show a majority of Edmonton residents want the airport kept open.

"It's been a long 60 days. It has taken a ton of work, and our volunteers have been incredible," Braithwaite said.

"They have gone above and beyond what anyone could have asked any of them, and the end result here is we have the signatures that we need and we're very satisfied with the results."

Once the petition is handed over, city officials will have to verify the signatures. The city plans to have a staff of 16 to 20 people review the names to ensure they meet the requirements of the Municipal Government Act by having complete names and addresses.

An independent survey company will also check a random sample of signatories to ensure they meet certain criteria, like being over 18 and a resident of Edmonton for at least six months.

The city has 30 days to complete that work, but plans to have an official count for city council by Sept. 15. The law department also plans to prepare an opinion on the legality of the petition.

Airport debate ongoing

If the issue does go to a vote, it doesn't mean the fate of the airport will change, Coun. Ben Henderson said.

"The last time we had a referendum like this was the VLT debate and they collected significantly more signatures than the 80,000 [required] and when it came to a vote, it still lost," he said.

Henderson says he hopes the issue finally gets settled because he believes the constant debate is bad for the city.

"One way or the other, we need a definitive answer. If they haven't got the signatures, I say the definitive answer is there. If they have got the signatures, then it will go on the ballot and we will have our definitive answer after. And then we have to stop debating this."

In July 2009, Edmonton city council voted in favour of closing the airport, which is located immediately northwest of downtown, so the lands could be freed-up for development. The city started phasing out one of two runways at the beginning of August.

However, the airport is home to a number of businesses, and proponents argue it has a significant economic benefit to the community.

If the plebiscite goes ahead, it will be the third one on the airport's future since 1992. That year, voters narrowly opted to keep the airport running with passenger services.

In 1995, a referendum supported having all scheduled passenger flights fly out of the Edmonton International Airport, 20 kilometres south of the city, but not closing the downtown facility.

A report released in June 2008 estimated the land, if sold, could accommodate 32,000 homes and earn the city an additional $95 million in property taxes.

Five firms from the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States are currently competing in a city-sponsored competition to redevelop the airport lands.