Glacier Air angered over snow clearing 

Squamish says removal done on priority basis

Winter is cruel to airports. As if oblivious to their needs, it drapes them in snow, cakes them in ice and bloats their terminals with malcontented hordes. But, in the end, the big guys prevail, be they in Toronto or Vancouver.   Snow is cleared; ice is thawed; and those malcontents are eventually satisfied.

No doubt Colette Morin is envious of that ultimate triumph. Owner of Glacier Air Tours, she runs her operation from the tarmac in Brackendale, where things are less certain. Last week’s weather saw the airport rendered nearly useless, with the tarmac too covered in snow for any kind of fixed wing flight activity. Dec. 22 and 23 were both bunk days for Glacier Air.

“We lost a day of revenue today,” she said, “and we did yesterday, too. There were people wanting to do tours and see our beautiful area, plus our regular students. So I phoned and asked, and (district Operations Manager) Gord Prescott said, ‘Oh. Well, no. Actually, they took snow removal from the airport out of the budget.’"

So Morin sat at her computer and pounded out a letter of protest. Addressed to Mayor Greg Gardner, local media and other airport stakeholders, she lamented the district’s care of the facility, saying the snow removal issue is just another episode in a trend of neglectful governance.

By mid-afternoon, however, the ploughs had showed up to clear the runways, though that wasn’t enough to satisfy Morin.

“We shouldn’t have to go through this, and we lost the whole day, anyway,” she said. “Thanks to harassing them, we got them out here. But why do we have to lose revenue?”

With a new council in power, airport stakeholders had been hopeful for a change in approach. There are some signs of that happening. Councillor Rob Kirkham has highlighted the airport as a priority, and Gardner has also said the district’s management approach needs revisiting. This business with plowing seems to be a relic from the previous administration, which Gardner joined as a councillor, as did sitting Councillors Patricia Heintzman and Corinne Lonsdale.

“My information is that council did remove snowplowing of the airport as a separate line item in the budget,” said Gardner. “It’s not a priority in our snowplowing schedule. It is actually currently being plowed as we speak, so it is being plowed within our regular street plowing program. And it’s a low priority.”

According to Gardner, the district nets about $8,000 a year from leasing lots to airport parties. There are four businesses operating out of the facility, as well as some 20 private aircraft. During August’s rockslide, when the highway was closed for a number of days, the airport played a significant role in the shipping of goods and people — though the Flying Club has since said the whole operation was fraught with danger, again because of district management.

Morin uses this and other arguments to frame the airport as part of Squamish’s transportation infrastructure, though the mayor said council hasn’t discussed the facility in those terms.

“We certainly consider it an important part of our infrastructure,” he said. “It's a part of our assets that we need to have a look at and a review of.”

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