PORT HOOD: A disagreement between Inverness Municipal Councillors was settled as council voted to rescind motions that would have resulted in municipal funding for the expansion of an airstrip in Margaree.
On July 7, 2014 and December 1, 2014, council passed motions to support the Margaree expansion financially. That funding was contingent on support from the province and the federal governments. Originally, the numbers being batted around saw the three levels of government each taking one-third of the $10 million estimated cost.
Last week’s motion states council supports the Margaree airstrip but not the funding formula. Partnerships with the private sector would have to account for the airstrip funding, according to the motion.
The vote saw councillors John Dowling and John MacLennan, along with deputy warden Alfred Poirier, vote to rescind, while councillors Jim Mustard and Laurie Cranton opposed the motion to rescind.
Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie was unable to attend the meeting in person, as she’s recovering from surgery. While she took part of the meeting via phone, a discussion earlier in the session revealed that council had no policy relating to members voting by phone. As a result, any vote she offered could be contested and she did not vote. In the past, MacQuarrie expressed hesitation in abandoning the idea of financial support.
Councillor Mustard pointed out that the original funding formula was not written in stone, and the assumption that the municipality had to come up with an estimated $3.3 million was just that. MacQuarrie, via phone, expanded on that idea. She said the municipality’s third could, at least partially, be funded by private investors.
“It’s not that we’re against the airport,” Poirier said.
“Councillor Dowling said he was against the airport,” Cranton stated.
“I never said that,” Dowling replied. “I’m against $3 million in tax payer money being used for the airport.”
Cranton said he knows of two or three possible funding partners, and he asked for time to tap them on the shoulder to see if they have interest in helping. If they were willing to donate, he said, council could have them meet with a facilitator to flesh out something more agreeable to the municipality.
His appeal did not gain enough support and the vote to rescind was passed.
After the meeting, Cranton spoke to The Reporter and said it’s now unlikely funding will be found, as the province and feds are usually hesitant about funding without a municipal contribution.
“I won’t give up, but we aren’t in very good shape at all,” he said. “I think the airport would be a tremendous asset to the community and the municipality, and I think we were pretty close a few times, but I can understand the taxpayers’ concerns. There are two sides to everything.”
There is a local committee in Margaree working to have the airport construction take place, and Cranton said he’ll press on with that group.
Poirier also chatted for a minute with The Reporter. He said the matter of municipal funding may be settled, but with private money, the airstrip could still be a reality.
“The opportunity is there, and the investors are there,” he said. “If they get money from the federal government and the provincial government, why not have some investors come on?”
In addition to the money issue, some councillors felt the Port Hawkesbury Airport covered all air travel needs in the county. That facility recently signed an agreement with Celtic Air Services Ltd. to operate and expand the airport.