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  • Vermilion Voice

To Pave Or Not To Pave The Runway

Updated: Sep 15, 2023




The Town of Vermilion hosted its first of two Airport Public Engagement sessions on March 22, and have released an online survey as well.

In order to gather public input through the survey, they have posed some questions to both Town of Vermilion and County of Vermilion River residents on whether or not they should pave the runway of the Vermilion Airport within the next couple years. An approximate $2 million cost could have 75 per cent covered by a provincial grant.

At the town council meeting on March 21, they noted that they had received 270 responses to the survey within the first 24 hours.

Dozens of people attended the first session and Deputy Mayor Paul Conlon said, “Growing up I thought the airport was a staple to the community. This is the biggest turnout I’ve seen in my time here, actually talking to everyone and having them bring forward their concerns. We want the best information out there.”

One very concerned resident approached him saying they did not want to “take the town backwards by losing the airport.” Others felt if they lose the airport, the area will lose them as local residents.

Displaying some historical data, town staff noted that in 1931 the Vermilion Town Council set aside land for an airport, and in 1944 the first one was built as a grass strip south of its current location. The current one was built in 1976, and was overlaid in 1996.

The current surface reaches the end of its lifespan in 2024 so potentially if paved; it could keep the airport viable for decades to come. Of all the data presented, a few items were noted by visitors as being “incorrect”.

“I believe the numbers in question with respect to the tax increase should be 1.1 per cent and 4.4 per cent instead of 11 per cent and 44 per cent in the questionnaire,” said Bruce MacDuff who is a member of the Airport Advisory Committee. “The airport is just as important as the rinks, pool, ball diamonds, or library which all have a deficit.”

The Town also notes there are 12 airports within a 100 km radius of Vermilion, but local pilots noted that some are closed, some are grass strips, and that some do not provide reliable winter maintenance. They also neglected to mention that it is the only airport within the County of Vermilion River. As well, it is believed to be one of two in all of Alberta with the proximity being within the town limits.

“This is a special airport because you don’t have to hire a taxi to pick people up to drive them into town,” said Matt Jaremco.

It also offers under-wing camping and other tourist draws, for users picking up machinery, and when travelling for work or pleasure. Director of Infrastructure, Ben McPhee said, “Our usage has been pretty consistent with approximately 323 flights per year (seeing 363 in 2022).”

Part way through their first meeting, McPhee said that most people he had spoken to so far were in support of the paving.

There are 11 aircraft currently registered at the Vermilion Airport. It has offered fuel since 2022, aircraft maintenance since 2019, and a flight training school since 2019. Economic benefits include hangar rentals, and aerial spray applicators.

Don Oldenburg said, “If there’s a bug outbreak in wheat or canola they need a paved runway (they cannot operate on a grass runway); and it needs to be within an approximate 20 mile radius of the crop.”

Jaremco said, “On the Ag side, we lost $80,000 in canola one year, just because it took the pilot a couple days to get there.”

“An airport is a cornerstone of progression and infrastructure; like streets or anything else. If a major oil company in Calgary is looking at a project in Vermilion; they may only take flights into Vermilion two or three times per year, but the community may see millions of dollars in decision making down the road,” said Oldenburg. “The airport is like your house; it’s cheaper to maintain than to rebuild.”

Another topic on display was the Medi-vac service.

“Medi-vac is life saving by taking babies out to the NICU and avoiding taking ambulances out of Vermilion for a minimum of four hours. It’s a humongous benefit and has happened 75 times since 2018. And how much to put a price on a life saved or not – it’s an asset we can’t do without?” said Erwin Warkentin, who is another member of the Airport Advisory Committee.

Derwent Fire Chief, Matt Jaremco said, “As first-responders the Medi-vac is of dire importance. Every second counts, and often we are left waiting for ambulances when none are around. Elk Point Emergency has been closing overnight, and there is a golden hour of life when we are called in. STARS can take 40 minutes to arrive but cannot land in poor weather, where Medi-vac will fly in worse conditions.”

They noted that Medi-vac takes roughly three hours to deploy but Prairie EMS prefers to keep Vermilion ambulances free when possible.

One more of the discrepancies pointed out was that one of the posters displayed states that two of the Medi-vac aircraft were over the weight capacity for the pavement which, others felt was not the case. Instead they said that the pavement was rated for larger aircraft, but they were concerned that if the condition of the pavement’s surface continues to deteriorate that the larger aircraft may stop coming because it could damage their nose gear.

For those who don’t have a direct correlation with the airport, they suggested they might indirectly, because aside from providing a few jobs, it has provided business in all corners of the community (for hotels, restaurants, machinery, even the art gallery etc.). There was also a doctor that travelled weekly to work in the community. As well, the local flying club has given multiple tours to groups of elementary students, and has ideas for the future to host more fly-ins, pancake breakfasts, or partner with other organizations (like they did with the snowmobile club) to host collaborative events such as at the fair, etc.

“There are so many opportunities that can come out of that potential,” said Warkentin. “We want people to have an educated choice. Come find out about the airport; you can talk to committee members to learn more.”

The second Airport Engagement session will take place Saturday, April 15, at the Town Hall Council Chambers from 1 – 5 p.m. To fill out the survey, you can visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PSD29XY. For more information you can call the town at 780-853-5358.

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