Saskatchewan

$3M Moose Jaw airport runway expansion up in the air

Moose Jaw is already known for its air force base, but the city’s mayor and private businesses are hoping its smaller airstrip receives money from the federal government.

Province says it is awaiting ‘clarity’ from city before submitting project to Ottawa

A plane takes off at Moose Jaw Municipal Airport. The city's airport authority and the province are hoping to extend the runway. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Moose Jaw is already known for its air force base, but the city's mayor and some private businesses are hoping a smaller municipal airstrip receives money from the federal government.

The province said it is awaiting some clarity on the city of Moose Jaw's priorities before submitting the project for approval.

A $3-million expansion of the existing runway at Moose Jaw Municipal Airfield has been selected by the province of Saskatchewan as a priority for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). Ottawa is contributing $896 million via ICIP over 10 years. 

The fund and which projects should be submitted for funding has caused debate between Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Regina MP Ralph Goodale in recent weeks.

The runway expansion was not one of the three projects voted on and approved by the city of Moose Jaw at a council meeting in April before the province's initial deadline for expressions of interest.

The province asked communities for expressions of interest in March with a deadline of April 30.

On Apr. 22, council voted to apply for funding for improving the city's reservoir system, for an outdoor pool replacement and for transit.

The province said the Moose Jaw Airport Authority made the request for the runway funding on June 20. 

The federal government said the province submitted its final applications on July 12.

At a July 22 meeting, council voted on the grant application as part of the ICIP to expand the runway. 

Moose Jaw Mayor Fraser Tolmie said the $3 million cost to improve the runway would be shared between the three levels of government,  $1 million from the province, $1 million from the federal government and $1 million from the city, with half of the city's portion being provided as a grant from local business interests.

The city's council members were not unanimous in their support.

"How the municipal airport runway extension became one of the top priorities of this city for federal-provincial funding is beyond me," city councillor Brian Swanson said on July 22. 

"By voting for this motion, we are saying the most urgent need for money from Ottawa is municipal airport runway expansion. I myself am a bit embarrassed to vote on something that's already been submitted to Ottawa."

Moose Jaw Mayor Fraser Tolmie says an extension of the city's airport would benefit the community by allowing larger planes to land and takeoff. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Tolmie said the city was sometimes put in a position of bidding against other organizations within its community.

The motion to approve a grant for the ICIP passed by a vote of 4-2.

"Normally the process would be that in an ideal world this would have been applied for and that council would have been alerted and given the approval," Tolmie said on Wednesday.

He said the city has made its priorities clear. It was looking for $16 million for a reservoir and $3.75 million for an outdoor pool replacement, but he said that does not mean the city would refuse money from either level of government.

"If there's money to be had for whatever project you're saving the taxpayers money. Would you turn down a million dollars for economic development? I would say no."

Runway improvements needed, says board member

Moose Jaw Airport Authority board member Gerry Julian said the application process was started by the MJAA with the assistance of city administration.

Julian, who is also president of the Moose Jaw Flying Club, said the length of the runway puts the city at a competitive disadvantage when compared to other communities like Prince Albert, Swift Current and Carlyle. 

The current runway is less than 915 metres. Julian said an expansion to 1,200 metres would allow "business class, turbo props and light jets" to fly in and out.

Julian said he did not have a list of local people or businesses pushing for the expansion.

He said the improvements go beyond economic interests.

"Saskatchewan air ambulance, under a lot of circumstances, cannot use our runway at full gross weight so they have to offload fuel or leave fuel behind in order to safely use that runway."

In addition, he said 15 Wing Moose Jaw cannot use the runway for some of its training. Julian said the force uses Swift Current to work on approaches and landings instead of Moose Jaw's smaller runway. 

Local companies pushing for runway expansion

Tolmie said he talked to members of the local business community who expressed an interest in seeing the runway expanded, but would not comment on exactly what businesses those were.

"They want to be able to get their aircraft in and out and sometimes the length of the runway is dependent on that."

Mosaic Potash, Yara and Terra Grain Fuels all have operations at Belle Plaine about 15 kilometres east of the airfield.

A spokesperson for Mosaic told CBC it has not contributed toward any grant or loan.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 13 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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