Pemberton Airport plans are taking off after the village council enlisted one of Canada's largest construction companies as a strategic partner to help realize the untapped business potential of the small northern facility.
SNC-Lavalin was selected at a closed-door meeting of council last week, in response to a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI), issued by the village in August. They were chosen out of "a number" of interested parties, convincing council it had the wherewithal to realize the economic development potential of the airport, including the establishment of a commercial passenger service.
"This is a company that has the capacity and the resources and the interest, it seems, to bring us to the next level with regard to the Pemberton Airport," said Mayor Jordan Sturdy, confirming the preferred party of interest to
Pique this week.
"It is a big deal. It's an important issue and it's something that we need to approach cautiously but with an open mind."
The RFEI outlined the objectives of the opportunity.
It states: "The Village of Pemberton is interested in developing a long-term strategic partnership in the form of a formal long-term agreement to help advance a commercial development vision, operational concepts and a business plan that generates investment in this key economic area within the Village of Pemberton."
That agreement could include a P3 or Public/Private Partnership.
"The Village's goal is to develop the airport in such a way as to enable the facilitation of potential regional commercial air service to/from Pemberton Regional Airport, development of lease lands for general aviation purposes and if necessary, the expansion of the runway, taxiways and apron area to accommodate this growth."
But Sturdy was quick to point out that though a partner has been chosen, this is just the first step in a potentially long road that includes community consultation, a thorough examination of the social and environmental concerns, and the concerns of the Lil'wat Nation, in other words weighing the risks and the benefits."The benefits are potentially significant," he said. "Now can the social and environmental concerns be mitigated? I think we have to explore that.
"I want to emphasize that no decisions have been made with regard to what would actually happen. The intention is to reach an agreement with SNC in terms of how the process would evolve, how do we come to a determination of what the preferred option would be, what's the consultation part of that, how do we engage the community, how do we determine the structure?"
Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin has been working on airport projects, one division of its expertise, since the early 1970s. Those projects have ranged from "large turnkey development projects to airport planning and feasibility studies for small communities," according to its website.
Tourism Whistler's president and CEO Barrett Fisher also cautioned that it was still early days.
"Clearly this is only the first step in what could be a very complex and comprehensive process," she said.
"If along the way an expanded commercial enterprise is considered that certainly would benefit tourism for Pemberton, for Whistler and for the region."
When asked why council issued the RFEI in August when it has long been quiet on the airport's future, Sturdy said it was in response to outsiders expressing an interest.
"We felt that the best approach was to go out with a public process and see if there's interest, and clearly, there was," he added.
Taxpayers subsidize the village-owned airport to the tune of roughly $50,000 per year.