SRD Asking Transport Canada About The Cortes Island Landing Strip

There were questions about what can be accomplished, but the SRD will be asking Transport Canada about the safety requirements, noise levels and frequency of planes using the Cortes Island Airstrip.

At their May 22 meeting, Cortes Island Director Mark Vonesch told the SRD Board:

“There is an airstrip on Cortes Island that’s been there for a long time. A new buyer bought the land and has  been upgrading the runway significantly.  I’ve heard numbers: allegedly a thousand gravel trucks. They’re paving it and  there’s a big concern from the community regarding: safety issues, what kind of planes can now land, frequency of planes that can now land,  whether they need permission from the owner to be able to land. And also further gentrification of Cortes Island as it becomes more accessible.”

Flying over Discovery Island region – Roy L Hales photo

“There’s a lot of questions that are coming to me from the community around this. I don’t have the answers and would really love staff support to engage with Transport Canada and  inform the board  on  what the rules are around safety, frequency and plane size. I have a motion as well.”  

Campbell River Director Doug Chapman questioned whether this would be a waste of staff’s time: 

“If it’s a private runway, then the safety requirements are going to be based on the length of the runway. The length of the runway is going to dictate the size of the aircraft – and it’s not landing, it’s takeoff.” 

“To make it simple, if you had a two engine aircraft  to take off, you have to reach a rotation for one engine, then take off. That’s why the length of the runway is important for takeoffs, not landing.  If it’s a private runway,  as long as they meet Transport Canada requirements for the aircraft operation  and the operator of the aircraft has insurance I don’t think we have a lot of input into it.  The Aeronautics Act and the regulations related to it dictate what happens.”  

Mark Vonesch:  “I appreciate that, thank-you. The concern is that it’s being upgraded and changed from what it was before, and there’s concern in the community about what exactly that means.”

“I’m just asking that staff call Transport Canada to answer some of these questions, so we can alleviate some of the fears and then have the community understand exactly what’s happening.”  

Doug Chapman: “From my personal viewpoint:  Would I rather have staff work on the projects we talked about ‘in camera?’ (from the Latin term meaning in a secret meeting). Or taking time to engage Transport Canada in something that’s already going to be set in federal regulations and enactments.  Are we wasting time is my question, to be blunt. I mean, we have limited staff. Where do we want them to focus  their attention? Is this something we want to really pursue?”  

Mark Vonesch: “Yes, I get that. We do have limited capacity and similar to a lot of issues that we talked around this board table where it’s not necessarily in our jurisdiction, we do have a role to play in a voice that can be played that brings some power to the issue.”

“I think this is a really important thing. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge thing for staff, and they could really support the issue and the concerns that people have on Cortes. It is a major upgrade to this runway. It’s not just  they’re regraveling. There’s been trucks going there for months blocking up the ferries. They’re paving it, they’ve built a huge new hangar. There’s a lot of concerns that are legitimate. I understand and respect your concern for staff time, but this is something that’s really important to the community. The SRD can be a strong voice by engaging with Transport Canada.”

Robyn Mawhinney, Regional Director for Area C, agreed:

“This sounds really intense to be happening on Cortes. I don’t have anything similar happening on Quadra, but over the last  year and a half, quite a few questions about helicopters landing.  Maybe there’s one or two properties which are operating as vacation rentals and are having helicopters coming in and out quite frequently.  I think that having an understanding of what the rules are and what we as the Regional District can or cannot even have any input on would be really helpful for constituents to understand. So I think that it makes sense to support this motion.” 

Regional Director Gerald Whalley pointed out that rural areas, like Cortes Island, do not have the resources available to a city like Campbell River:

“It may be just appropriate to remind Director Chapman that the CAO is the only staff we have. You guys have  your whole city full of staff, and your own CAO. We don’t have that.  Any information we need has to come from our CAO.”

Campbell River Director Susan Sinnott is a lawyer: 

“I don’t disagree that there’s concerns, but you’re going to find that you’re going to have very little control, because this is an aerodrome that’s completely regulated by Transport Canada. Once an aerodrome is declared, the local government has no business, and neither does the province. If you want to have complaints about noise from an airport,  there’s maybe some things you can do there.  You can get the staff to do a report that says basically Transport Canada controls it all and there’s nothing that we can do about it. What’s the output you want from staff? A briefer on  how airports work and how local governments have very little control when airports are established, or aerodromes are established. I don’t see that you’re going to get a lot of subtle information that might help you.”

“I would suggest maybe deferring this and doing some background yourself and visiting with our airport manager in Campbell River to understand a little bit better. We have aerodromes all over the place, as well as helidromes. That’s where you’re running into a federal system that has complete jurisdiction.” 

“I just don’t see that this is necessarily a good use of staff time and staff capacity is an important issue for us to consider at the board level.”  

Mark Vonesch: “Thank-you Director Sinnott. I appreciate your comments.  This isn’t an airport and I’m not looking for staff to advocate for something to change or for the property owner to do something different.”

“It’s really a fact finding mission that has the power of the SRD behind it to find the facts and bring them back to the community so that we can understand what’s going on. There’s a huge amount of concern in the community and I’d really appreciate your support.” 

Susan Sinnott: “It’s a regulated airdrome under Transport Canada. I was able to Google it in two seconds. It is what it is.  If you think it’s worthwhile, then I won’t oppose it. I just think it’s not super important.”  

Doug Chapman: “This is a suggestion, I listened carefully to what Director Vonesch  was looking for.  Why don’t we approach this like we do a planning issue? Why don’t we ask the landowner or the airdrome operator to hold a public meeting and describe what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, who’s going to be there, and let them inform the public instead of staff going to Transport Canada and going through this whole loop. One will go directly to the landowner and get them to give a community update to the community.”

Mark Vonesch:  “I think that would definitely be an ideal situation. If the landlord or if the landowner was willing to do that.  They don’t live on the island. They’re extremely wealthy.  We’d love a public meeting.  We’ve tried that. It’s not happening.  We’re at a place here where it’s just like, okay,  what information can we find out and what next steps can the community make?” 

Regional Director John Rice, of Area D, had a suggestion: 

“Just one comment. and it was what Director Sinnott said, that there is an opportunity to reach out to the airport manager in Campbell River. Did I hear that correctly? Because I think maybe just reaching out, if Director Vonesh would like to reach out to the airport manager and feel some questions. Maybe set this aside for a little bit, defer it to the next board meeting. Perhaps the airport manager might be able to give you some more information.” 

Mark Vonesch: “Yes, I’d like to do that as well, but there’s this information that the airport manager doesn’t know about that particular runway.” 

At that point SRD Chair Mark Baker called a vote, “Okay, so we have a motion on the floor.”  

Mark Vonesch read out the motion: “I’d like to move the staff engage with Transport Canada to understand the implications on the size of planes, safety requirements, noise levels, and frequency of planes on the upgraded landing strip at 939 Raven Road, Cortes Island.” 

Mark Baker: “Discussion?  When in doubt, all in favour? … Opposed?  … Seeing one opposed … Are you opposed Director Sinnott?”  

Susan Sinnott: “Yep, I’m opposed.” 

Mark Baker: “Okay thank-you, two opposed, the motion is carried.” 

Links of Interest: 

Top image credit: Photo sent in by concerned Cortes Island resident

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2 thoughts on “SRD Asking Transport Canada About The Cortes Island Landing Strip”

    1. Hi Myrna……..glad the airport issue is in question etc……………… Do you know what do we have to do the have the roads, which are in terrible condition, fixed, no yellow lines down the middle etc… No one seems to know what we can do, who we can call etc. calling Main Roads gets now results…. Cars are being damaged and the chances of an accident are going up as we try to dodge potholes. A lot of interest in the airport and very little interest in the roads that we all drive every day. If you have any ideas let me know. Thanks for all you do and have done to care for our community. Lorna Kendel

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