Group delivers airport petition to city hall

The group fighting to save Edmonton's City Centre Airport delivered a petition with just over 92,000 signatures to city hall Thursday afternoon.
Envision Edmonton volunteers walk to Edmonton city hall Thursday afternoon carrying boxes containing 92,000 signatures. ((CBC))

The group fighting to save Edmonton's City Centre Airport delivered a petition with just over 92,000 signatures to city hall Thursday afternoon.

"Well, folks, we did it," Envision Edmonton chairman Chuck Allard told cheering volunteers from the steps of city hall.

Envision Edmonton needed to collect more than 78,000 signatures to force the city to hold a plebiscite on the future of the airport during this fall's muncipal election.

"This has been a remarkable achievement. You accomplished the goal in the face of countless challenges and adversity," Allard said.

After making a brief speech, Allard and some of his volunteers accompanied the six boxes of signatures as they were brough to the city clerk's office.

"We're feeling kind of exhilirated that it's over. It's been a grueling time. You don't realize how much work it is until you get involved and start the counting. We didn't know until three days ago that we had enough signatures," Allard told reporters afterwards.

City offiicals now start the task of verifying signatures on the petition. They have to complete the work within 30 days.

City officials thwarted petition drive, Allard alleges

The delivery of the petition was the culmination of a campaign that revived the long-standing debate over the airport's future, which has long been a divisive issue among Edmontonians.

In an interview Thursday morning, Allard said the city was behind attempts to block volunteers from collecting signatures at summer festivals like the Heritage Festival, Taste of Edmonton and Captial Ex.

"We had people that phoned us and told us that this was happening and they were getting pressure from above," he told host Ron Wilson on CBC Radio's Edmonton A.M.

When pressed to reveal who was behind the attempts to pressure festival organizers, Allard said it wasn't appropriate to reveal names. All he would say is that they were "administrators who work for elected officials."

However, Ben Henderson, Edmonton city councillor for Ward 4, scoffed at Allard's allegations.

"I can absolutely assure you that had nothing to do with us ... the suggestion, the insinuation that we did something to block it, I find offensive, frankly," he said.

Henderson said he checked with staff members and verified that festival organizers asked petitioners to leave, not city staff. 

"It was up to each festival to make that choice. Some of them chose 'yes.' Some of them chose 'no.' Some of them may not even have been approached. I can guarantee you that we don't have the power to do anything about that nor did anybody try to create any kind of pressure that way, that was totally up to the festivals."

Jack Little, executive director of the Heritage Festival, said no one at his event was approached by petition volunteers.

"Nobody came to ask us so there was no decision to make," he said Thursday

City Centre Airport, built in 1929, was the first licensed airstrip in Canada and occupies 217 hectares downtown.

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.

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