Airport dreams won't fly anytime soon 

Whistler's decision a positive step for Pemberton, says Warner

Whistler's dreams of a local airport have taken a nosedive.

At Monday's meeting council voted against spending another $20,000 to investigate the feasibility of an airport in the Brandywine area, on Whistler's southern boundaries.

The decision effectively killed plans for a Whistler airport for the time being.

While this was welcome news for Pemberton, which has been hoping to expand its airport for years, the decision was a blow to Councillor Nick Davies who has been championing the cause.

"I'm disappointed that council isn't going to at least proceed in an open minded manner," said Davies, as he refuted what he called hysteria and paranoia in the arguments put forward by his fellow councillors at the meeting.

"I haven't heard one single valid fact," he said.

Council's arguments included environmental and noise concerns, increased pollution from jet traffic and the possibility of souring relationships with regional partners.

Councillor Ken Melamed voiced his concerns first after it became obvious no one would back up Davies in support of spending more money for further investigation. Melamed questioned whether or not Whistler was "putting the cart before the horse."

He wanted to have answers to questions such as the environmental impact of an airport in the Brandywine area, and the impact of emissions from increased private jet traffic before authorizing staff to spend more money.

Melamed also questioned the quality-of-life for those who might live "in the flight pattern of 737s."

"Noise is just not high on my list of things to be around," he said, adding that Pemberton may feel the same way down the road.

Davies jumped on this argument saying it was completely devoid of facts and that air traffic wouldn't come anywhere near the community.

As for environmental concerns, Davies, who is a recreational pilot, invited councillors to fly with him and see first hand Whistler's impact on the environment, which he called a "wart on the landscape."

"We certainly do not have the right to be holier than thou," he said. "We are industrial tourism in this community."

The $20,000 study would have provided council with information on whether an airport was even feasible in the area. The Brandywine site can only work if the airport had RNP (required navigational procedure) technology and the study would have looked at the feasibility of RNP in Brandywine. Without that technology there could be no airport.

Davies’s calls for a local airport intensified recently after the just released Community Monitoring Report showed the resort's economy flattening in recent years. Davies said Whistler must start to think of creative ways to get the economy back on track and a local airport could be one way to stimulate the economic engine.

But in the meantime Pemberton has been doing studies looking at the feasibility of expanding its airport for commercial jets.

This was one of the main reasons Councillor Caroline Lamont could not support Whistler's plans to pursue a Brandywine airport.

"Probably one of my biggest concerns is our regional relationships," said Lamont. "Transportation is a regional issue."

Davies argued against that position, saying Whistler must protect its own investment first and foremost.

"At the end of the day we have to do what is in the best interests of this community," he said.

Both Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner and Pemberton Councillor Mark Blundell agree Whistler's decision opens the door for the neighbouring councils to sit down and work together on Pemberton's possibilities.

"We've done a lot of work and I think we need to share that with (Whistler council)," said Blundell.

Warner said Whistler's decision was a positive step for Pemberton's airport and as Pemberton works with the Vancouver Airport Authority in developing plans, she questioned whether or not Whistler should be part of those discussions.

"Perhaps Whistler should be sitting at that table too and I certainly would be in favour of that," she said.

For the time being, however, Whistler's airport plans will sit on the backburner, a decision which prompted Davies to call council a plodding old workhorse wearing blinders.

After reflecting on Monday's decision, Mayor Hugh O'Reilly said perhaps council was too hasty in shooting down further investigation of the airport.

"We're going to have a dialogue with Pemberton council but I think the community's going to have to grab it now and guide council if they want to see anything happen," he said on Tuesday.

"I think it's going to get revisited. I'm confident that's going to happen because I have enough sense of what's going on in the community that people want more answers than what they got… I think we jumped too soon on a decision."

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