Airport’s big ask

Note: My comments in this blog regarding PlanSJ are mine alone as a citizen and Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) member, and are not intended to represent the views of the CAC as a whole.

Bernard Leblanc of the Saint John Airport has been very vocal in the last few months about his desire that the City integrate the Airport into its municipal land-use plan in a way that suites the Airport’s needs. Specifically, Leblanc wants the Airport to be able to commercially develop its excess lands, and states that the Airport must be designated a commercial or industrial Opportunity Area to allow it to do that.

That assertion is confusing, as the Airport is federally regulated transportation infrastructure. The Airport doesn’t need City zoning or permission. It can, within its federal jurisdiction, do whatever it wants with its 400 acres of excess land. It seems this isn’t a matter of the City ‘allowing’ the Airport to do anything.

Instead, I fear the Airport’s desire to be designated an Opportunity Area has more to do with the specific infrastructure and investment benefits that come with that designation. Infrastructure and investments that would be paid for by Saint John taxpayers. This fear is confirmed by a draft planning document produced by the Airport in June 2010, in which it said one component of its strategy must be: Working with the City of Saint John to achieve connection of the airport site to the City’s water and sewage distribution system. I think the Airport wants to be an Opportunity Area because the City would then be obligated to pay for the delivery of municipal services to the Airport.

That isn’t a trivial ask. The cost of running water, sewer and storm lines out to the Airport would be ballpark $20 million or higher. Yet Leblanc insists the Airport isn’t looking for any money from the City. Either Leblanc doesn’t understand what it is he’s asking for, or he’s hoping we don’t.

There’s no argument about the importance of the Airport. It’s crucial, and we’re far better off having one in this region. Hard decisions are likely going to be needed – by both the City of Saint John and other regional municipalities – about what types of investment to make in the Airport. But that clearly falls outside the scope of PlanSJ. The Airport requires a coordinated, regional strategy that brings together all its partners. The days of Saint John taxpayers fronting the bills for people in the burbs are over.

The Airport needs to develop a business plan to ensure its sustainability, and it needs to seek out support throughout its catchment area and from all levels of government. It also needs to be clear with partners and taxpayers about exactly what it’s asking for.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.