Friday, September 23, 2011

Canada: City of Victoria supports expansion of float-plane dock. Residents' fears over pollution and traffic fail to persuade councillors.

A Harbour Air floatplane comes in to land in the Inner Harbour in Victoria
Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist

The City of Victoria supported the proposal by a group of float-plane companies to expand their dock space in the Inner Harbour, which will likely pave the way for a single marine airport terminal downtown.

After a public hearing on the issue Thursday night, council voted in favour of the proposed realignment that would extend the docks by 25 metres, allowing B.C.'s Harbour Air Seaplanes and Westcoast Air (owned by Harbour Air), and Washington state's Kenmore Air to work out of the same space.

It's part of a $3.5-million project to consolidate the operations of the three airlines into a 3,600-square-foot Victoria Seaplane Terminal, which would accept international and domestic flights. Harbour Air vice-president Randy Wright said the consolidation of the three airlines would improve safety, provide operational efficiencies and better customer service, which would boost the tourism industry and give a boost to the local economy.

The companies needed rezoning approval from the city to allow float planes on the northernmost section of the dock extending into a water lot held by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

Several people from the tourism industry, including representatives from Tourism Victoria, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and several downtown hotels, spoke in favour of the proposal, saying it will help to attract more visitors to Victoria.

Members of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association were the most vocal opponents of the proposal. Marg Gardiner said the extension of float-plane docks in the Inner Harbour will increase plane traffic, which will cause more noise and more pollution.

The association urged the city to delay a decision on the expansion until studies on noise, air pollution, flight traffic and safety can take place. Gardiner said the city was not ensuring a fair and competitive process for use of the prime, publicly-owned real estate. She said the city is charging too little for leasing space and, thus, the public is not receiving fair compensation from the float-plane companies.

An emotionally-charged plea to cap the number of flights was made by James Bay resident Miriam Nelson, who said she suffers from health problems which are aggravated by the air pollution from the float planes.

She disputed claims from float-plane companies that this does not amount to an expansion of their business.

"I'm not against the float planes, but instead of expanding we should be capping the number of flights," Nelson said.

Under the plan, Kenmore will move from the Hyack Air terminal at 1234 Wharf St. on property held by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The Hyack Air lease expires at the end of this year and does not include an extension.

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