Conversations about the development of an airport in Cowichan have been circulating for years, and the debate is real. On one side are members of various business sectors, many of whom see it as a necessity in tandem with economic development in the Region.
On the other side are a contingent of residents who, at the word “airport”, instantly envision a constant stream of Boeing 747s roaring overhead at all hours of the day and night, lowering their property values and leaving a trail of poisonous jet fuel across pristine Cowichan Valley lands.
Sensitivity around the topic – combined, perhaps, with a general lack of understanding – is undoubtedly why Amy Melmock, Manager, Economic Development, is quick to correct me when I ask about the likelihood of a new airport in Duncan.
“What reason would government have to approve a new airport midway between Nanaimo and Victoria International Airports?” asks Melmock, somewhat rhetorically. “We’re not looking to duplicate existing services. The purpose of the Air Transport Study is to explore the need and feasibility for complimentary air transport infrastructure through the lens of industrial land development.”
Melmock says the CVRD has assembled a Project Advisory Committee to administer the study, the results of which they hope to release this coming fall.
The Committee is comprised of representatives from the business, manufacturing, healthcare, emergency services and local government sectors. A key consideration is emergency planning and preparedness, in particular, increasing capacity to respond to disasters such as earthquakes or wild fires.
“It’s about developing a resiliency plan” says Melmock. “We are located on an island. How many opportunities are there for back-up? This is something we need to explore.”
Another consideration that will be examined by the Committee is the need for greater options for executive travel to and from the island, particularly for the growing manufacturing and tourism sectors. In this case, there might be opportunity for a mixed-funding model, which could include government incentivised, private investment.
But what about the existing federally registered Duncan Airport? Gary O’Brien, Owner/Operator of Action Ultralights Flight Training School and long-time member of the Duncan Flying Club, says their single-airstrip aerodrome isn’t well set up to support a significant increase in traffic.
“The Duncan Flying Club is a non-profit organization with about 87 members that took over the management of the Duncan Airport back in 1967. So it’s run on volunteer power” explains O’Brien. “In addition to recreational and training use, we do collaborate with emergencies services on occasion, but our capacity out here is pretty limited.”
O’Brien believes that it’s not a case of building another aerodrome in Duncan, but rather building a different one. In his mind’s eye, the Duncan Airport would likely cease to exist in favour of a newer one that could better serve the population – including the recreational flying community.
Melmock, however, remains conservative when it comes to projecting that far into the future; hers is a more measured and analytical outlook.
“Just as we do with roadways and marine transport, it’s important to continue to review all avenues of connectivity – including air transport – as our communities develop and grow.”
Alec Wheeler was raised in Sointula and travelled extensively overseas before returning to the Island and settling in North Cowichan. She has an extensive background in arts and culture and is passionate about sharing community stories.