District of Vanderhoof lawyers have advised council that the lands at the airport may well be under federal jurisdiction, and therefore may not have to answer to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
At a regular council meeting on December 15, council were made aware of a Supreme Court ruling that had recently been in the news. The case in Quebec ruled that aerodromes are the responsibility of the Federal government and that the ALC, as a provincial body, has no jurisdiction over areas designated as aerodromes.
Since that council meeting, District lawyers were asked to look over the court case to see if it is something worth pursuing for Vanderhoof.
At the last council meeting on January 12, council members were given a report from one of their lawyers saying that there are many similarities between the case in Quebec and Vanderhoof’s position and so it may well be worth challenging the ALC. After a lengthy discussion during the meeting, council members carried a resolution to continue with an application to have lands removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) before challenging the authority the ALC has over the airport lands in Vanderhoof.
“Right now the decision at council was that we would continue to work with the ALC and then we will see…how this court case in Quebec might affect future development out at the airport,” said Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
“It’s very difficult as a rural community to convince organizations that are based out of Vancouver and Victoria…we have needs that are very specific for us…and so we need to be able to get as much of the decision making back into our community as possible,” he said.
Council are keen to continue working with the ALC at this time to complete the removal of a parcel of land from the ALR that has already been designated for development.
Council were concerned that if they went straight ahead and challenged the authority of the ALC then it might take up to another two years before lands at the airport would be freed for development.
The District has recently hired a consultant to develop an airport marketing plan to explore the possibility of an aviation park at the airport where aviation-related businesses could decide to set up shop.
Economic development officer for Vanderhoof Kathy Laforge believes the Vanderhoof airport is ideally located for this kind of development.
“We think that this location might be desirable because as the Prince George airport expands we think that some of the smaller businesses might be forced out of there due to the leasing costs,” said Leforge.
“And then with the Aviation Business Diploma course that’s going ahead at the college here this spring…we think that they’ll be some call for aviation-related businesses to help support that program,” she said.
The consultant, who is due to start work on the marketing study this week, will be looking into the initial feasibility of expansion at the airport, as well as contacting potential businesses who may be interested in either expanding to the Vanderhoof airport, or relocating.
“We want to make sure that we market our airport the right way,” said Thiessen of the upcoming study.
“We want to encourage airport business into our community…we think we are strategically located and we have recently done just incredible upgrades with the lighting, the GPS, and the weather station..and with the mining coming into town I think we are just in a great position,” he said.
Laforge says expansion at the airport could be great for our local economy.
“Depending on the type of business that come in there, it will bring new job opportunities either to local residents or to residents moving in as a result of being employed by these businesses,” she said.
“The spin-off that that could create for the community in terms of demand for housing and retail services and things will be fairly significant,” she added.
Laforge said that she’s not really sure how the Supreme Court ruling may effect development at the airport, but that the uncertainty over who has jurisdiction could be bad for business.
“The ALC has given us permission to exclude from agricultural use a parcel of land and thats what we’re looking at right now for this development but…there are some controversies around who actually has the authority at the airport,” said Laforge.
“I don’t know the finer points of the rulings and how tight of control the feds might have versus what our experience has been with the ALC, so at this point I cant really comment too much on which way we hope it goes…we just need to know for certain who has jurisdiction because potential businesses coming in here don’t want to have battles with who they have to get permission from to do things,” she said.
The first draft of the study results are due by the February 4.