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Pemberton wants public input on airport

Whistler has to decide if Pemberton facility will bring enough new visitors

Pemberton council wants to put together a planning committee as a follow-up to the adoption of its airport land-use plan.

The committee would draw up a strategy for the airport area so that council could then host meetings to get public input on the future of the airport.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner said the composition of the committee depends somewhat on whether or not the airport is kept as a local asset or is slated for development as a regional airport.

Pemberton and Mount Currie should definitely be at the table, she said.

"And if we are talking about regional development then Whistler should be at the table too," said Warner.

Another key piece of the puzzle is public consultation.

"We have really got to go and talk to people," said the mayor. "It is their airport. We want economic benefits but not everybody wants jets so there is a lot of work to be done."

Both Whistler and Pemberton councils had a chance to discuss airport development and other issues recently when they got together for a joint meeting.

"I think we accomplished a lot and I thought it was an evening well spent," said Warner.

"It gives us at the regional district table a better feel when you go to vote on the regional things when you know what your neighbour is thinking."

Whistler Councillor Nick Davies was also at the meeting. He was pleased to finally get a chance to sit down with Pemberton council and talk about the airport and some other issues.

"It was a very good meeting because until that meeting there hadn’t been any discussion between councils about the airport initiative so each side only knew what we had read in the newspapers," said Davies this week.

"I think both sides now understand what we are trying to do is what is best for our respective communities and what is best for the valley as well."

The land—use plan for the Pemberton airport was put together by PDK Airport Planning Inc. It lays out how development could happen around the airport so that runway development or instrumentation corridors are protected for the future.

It also suggested starting out small, with Dash 8 planes bringing in visitors rather than going to 737s right away.

But, said Warner, just because the land-use plan was adopted doesn’t mean the development will start right away. More consultation has to take place and funding must also be found for the process and the project.

"The proposal and the plan indicates that we have a valuable asset and we should utilize that asset," said Pemberton Councillor Mark Blundell, adding that he is looking forward to working with stakeholders such as Whistler on the project.

Blundell has long been concerned about the sustainability of Pemberton as resource industries such as logging hit hard times. He sees the development of an airport and the added tourism it would bring to Whistler as a crucial part of the community’s future.

"We don’t have any industry in Pemberton to piggy back on and a sustainable community has to think about that sort of thing," he said. "So I think an airport becomes a fairly big asset for us.

"And if we can generate lease properties out there where we have car rentals, people working on airplanes, hang gliders, gliders, all that sort of thing that will bring money into the economy as well.

"You don’t have to be having daily flights in here to make that airport work properly."

While Whistler Councillor Davies is encouraged by the steps Pemberton is taking on the airport initiative he still plans on keeping alive a proposal for Whistler to develop it’s own air facility south of the village.

"It is not dead at all," said Davies. "If (Pemberton’s) airport will bring in new guests to Whistler then it wouldn’t make sense to develop our own airport – that’s a preliminary comment – but from where I stand today that’s what I think.

"But the issue is I don’t think they have it clear in their minds whether they are prepared to go beyond Dash 8s.

"Tourism Whistler and Intrawest have made it clear to us that a plane the size of a Dash 8 will not bring new guests, so we need to make the step to go toward a bigger plane, like a 737.

"I don’t think we can just stand back and let Pemberton set the time line. If we are working together and we are satisfied that we are moving toward a solution and it benefits both communities, fine. But if the momentum in Pemberton gets stalled then how long do we wait before we say we need to get on to our own airport because we have to worry about our own economy?"