Airport petition hits turbulence

Envision Edmonton says it has collected 50,000 of the nearly 80,000 signatures it needs to have the airport issue put to a vote. But the city manager's office said that they may challenge the petition on a legal technicality.

City questions validity of petition to keep airport open

A group lobbying to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport open is finding turbulence at city hall.

Envision Edmonton says it has collected 50,000 of the nearly 80,000 signatures needed to have the airport closure put to a vote during October's civic election. But the city is looking closely at the petition to see if it can be challenged on a legal technicality. The decision to close the airport was made a year ago and, according to municipal policy, any petition to repeal or amend a decision must be filed within 60 days.

Councillor Tony Caterina said if it's true, the city should have said something earlier. "That should have been communicated to Edmontonians that there was a legal problem here," he told the CBC. "To come at the last minute really doesn't bode well, I don't think, for our city manager's office."

Caterina says the city should hold a vote on the airport, regardless of the validity of Envision Edmonton's petition.

"I think everybody can agree that everybody has the right to at least speak to it," he told the CBC, "and this would be sort of an underhanded way of not allowing it, for whatever reason."

Closure of the City Centre Airport has been debated for decades. In a 1992 plebiscite, Edmonton voters opted to keep the airport running. Three years later, residents voted to restrict the airport to private, charter and medevac flights. All scheduled passenger service was diverted to the International Airport.

In July 2009, city council decided to close the airport altogether. The first of two runways was closed Tuesday.

Ed Schlemko, a pilot and director of Envision Edmonton, said it was premature to shut down a runway before the future of the airport is resolved.

"We'd rather have that money better spent on improving infrastructure rather than tearing infrastructure down," he told the CBC.