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District of Squamish lays out planning process for airport strategy

Council unanimously endorses the scope, which is expected to lead to a strategy by 2023 or 2024.

The District of Squamish has set the goalposts for an upcoming planning process for the Squamish Airport (YSE) strategy.

On Dec. 21, the council voted unanimously to approve the scope of what will become a new airport strategy.

"Pleased to support this motion, I think it's important to get our own house in order," said Mayor Karen Elliott.

The District has long been without a firm roadmap on how to guide future use and development of the airport, and the creation of an airport strategy promises to fill that hole.

However, before embarking on creating this strategy, a scope must be given to staff so it sets expectations of how the planning process will proceed, its timeline and what kind of report will be produced.

That was what was on the table during the Dec. 21 meeting.

Neil Plumb, the municipality's manager of real estate, presented changes to the proposed process to council.

Previously, on Nov. 2,  Plumb presented a proposed scope to council, but this was not endorsed. Council made suggestions, and, one month later, he returned with a revised roadmap for the planning process.

Coun. Doug Race said that the revisions have largely addressed his concerns with the initial proposal.

A staff report listed changes that were made as a result of this revision and laid them out in a timeline.

First, the planning process begins by having staff complete an assessment of current conditions and best practices. This is expected to occur this winter.

Following that, staff proposed to immediately implement any recommended changes to the current operations management in time for the spring 2022 season.

In the spring, staff are expected to negotiate interim two-year lease extensions for airport tenants. At the moment, tenants at the airport are operating on month-to-month leases. Long-term leases are not being recommended until more technical analysis is done by the District.

Staff will advance to a technical analysis that will look at infrastructure, location and hazard analysis, and revenue models, among other things. If this step is completed this year, it will allow the bureaucrats to have something to present to the community during engagement sessions next year.

During the summer of this year, staff are also planning on evaluating the operational changes they would've made up to that point to see what would be working or not.

The District will also be investigating economic development during winter 2023. This would examine how the airport can bring business for tenants, and attract more opportunities in the future.

Throughout 2023, it's expected the District will ask the community for feedback and negotiate longer-term leases with existing tenants.

More due diligence may occur in 2024.

Coun. Eric Andersen said that he'd like to see staff focus on not just operations involving aircraft taking off and landing, but to explore if there are other ways to either make revenue or increase its use.

"There are some opportunities to increase the value and the services provided by our airport that don't involve takeoffs and landings," Andersen said.

Coun. John French said he'd enthusiastically support the motion, calling it a strong plan. He also noted that long-term leases for the airport tenants are much overdue.