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Once touted as the role model for regional cooperation, and having the best potential for local economic development, it is now a topic for murmurings about a secret sale, and ugly rumours that this has become the worst regional relationship this town has ever had.
Every time the airport comes up on the agenda, our oh-so-open and transparent Collingwood Council scurries behind closed doors to discuss it. But while that may seal a few local lips, it hasn’t stopped people in our surrounding region from talking about it. And several are complaining loudly about our council and administration.
There’s a $150-million development (and potentially MUCH larger; it could reach $300 million, I was told… read the letter in this week’s consent agenda starting page 22) going on out there. Well, it got started, and when it turned to Collingwood, it got stuck in bureaucratic limbo because of council’s and staff’s inaction.
And, from what I’m told, our municipal partners at the airport are fed up (a sentiment overheard last night after council’s inevitable in camera meeting about it).
The once-golden regional relationship has turned toxic. Just like it did with our water utility and Collus/Powerstream. There may be a trend here… everything this council touches is turning bad.
Back in January of this year, council heard a presentation from Clearview Aviation Commerce Centre (aka Airport Business Development). That was followed by one of those secret in camera meetings that are the hallmark of this council.
Discussed in that public presentation were three issues:
- a land acquisition from the Airport Lands to the CACC land holding,
- a servicing easement along the CNT Pipeline and
- an access agreement with the Airport
Nothing really new or surprising here. Prior to the last election, the former council was invited to a presentation at the airport to showcase the $80-million construction ($150 million assessed value), the potential 400 full-time and 1,300 part-time jobs and local revenue (it will host dozens of air-industry related businesses) it would create. All good news: jobs, growth and more revenue for the airport.
Except that this council has let this slip by for almost a full year without taking any substantial action (aside from lurking behind closed doors).
The airport business group made a presentation to Clearview Council in July, and got wholehearted support from that council:
Mayor Chris Vanderkruys said the new council is “open for business,” and is willing to make changes to promote business.
Open for business. What a refreshing change from Collingwood. Meanwhile, Collingwood Council did…. nothing. Just go in camera while business people and developers waited. And waited. And waited.
The airport is managed by a Municipal Service Board, on which sit representatives from the industry, and from our two neighbouring municipalities as well as Collingwood. During this time, the Airport Municipal Services Board has recommended supporting the business park in THREE meetings this year. Recommended granting the company access in principle so it can develop its business plans and construction plans. Collingwood has said no, four times.
As I read the Municipal Act (sections 193-204), this MSB has the authority to grant this letter of intent without needing any approval from any of its partners. But the board asked Collingwood for the letter, anyway. Collingwood Council apparently doesn’t want more business, more jobs in the region. No ‘open for business’ slogans here.
In October, the airport group announced it was going to launch its business centre at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas, bring international attention to our little corner of the world. What great publicity… to which Collingwood responded by doing nothing. Except going in camera again.
The airport MSB members are, I’m told, frustrated and angry at this treatment by Collingwood, and lay the blame squarely on Collingwood Council and its administration.
This weekend, the Connection ran another story about the company, this time it is asking Clearview for more land (30 acres) to add to its already large, 260-acre holding. This thing is becoming the biggest commercial development this area has seen since at least the 1960s.
Once that development is up and running, we expect to see a rapid growth spurt at the airport, with a great increase in private jets (fuel sales for just one of which would cover our annual operating costs). But council is deaf and blind to the economic benefits.
And once again, this week, the airport was on the agenda, but this time in three parts. First up on the consent agenda is a letter from the developers updating council, explaining the economic benefits, outlining the regional value, and asking council to please get off its ass and do something. All they want is a letter of intent. It won’t cost the municipality anything.
Second was ANOTHER recommendation from the Airport Services Board for Collingwood to “…provide a letter of intent to CACC to develop an access agreement to the Collingwood Regional Airport, with terms to be negotiated.”
A simple letter of intent – no cost, no obligation – and this council can’t get its act together to approve it in 11 months.
The third part was – you guessed it – an in camera meeting about the airport.
Now I’m pretty sure that these in camera meetings are of dubious legality since a request for a letter of intent does not meet a single reason in the Municipal Act as to why a council can discuss issues behind closed doors. But last night only Councillor Lloyd had the spine to stand up to staff and refuse to have any more secretive meetings about this matter. It should be discussed in public, he said.
And I agree.
If you think far too much of the town’s business is being discussed in secret, you’re right. Who knows what sort of machinations and nudge-nudge-wink-wink deals are going on behind those closed doors?
And guess what council decided after an hour in secret? That’s right: to refuse AGAIN.
This is beyond the norm even for the lethargic, anti-business bumbling of Collingwood Council. You can’t even blame their flaccid CBSP (the woo-hoo wishlist) for this because the word “airport” doesn’t even once in that document (which further underscores how myopic it is).
So why are they doing this? What I’ve been told by some of our municipal neighbours – I have not been able to get local confirmation, but my experience at the table, the scent of this story, and comments from outsiders suggests this will prove true – is that Collingwood is trying to sell our airport in secret.
Our neighbours are apparently so fed up with the intransigence of the town, and the treatment they have had over this, that they might buy it and take all the glory for themselves. And tell Collingwood to shove off and not darken their doors again.
So is this delay some bizarre tactic to try and force their hand? To create a hostile negotiating atmosphere? Or to simply put up more roadblocks to local economic growth?
Surely supporting a massive economic development there would make it more valuable to a buyer. But instead, Collingwood seems intent to devalue the property (we had an appraisal done last term and I believe the appraised value was around $6 million) by putting up roadblocks to future growth. Why else turn such a positive into a negative?
What? You hadn’t heard the airport was for sale? Well, that may be because it hasn’t been declared surplus. There have been no public meetings about it. No public consultation.
Our oh-so-open and transparent council has neither informed the public nor engaged the public for input about the airport. They prefer to discuss it all in secret. And when they do make it public, it will be too late. Fait accompli.
Why would they sell one of the most potent economic engines in the region? The airport costs us less than what a single department head gets in salary and benefits (and MUCH less than we pay our CAO) so it’s not like its a big drain on our operations. Plus with the development of this business park, its revenue stream will skyrocket to profitable levels. There’s no good, solid financial reason to sell it.
But we don’t know. And may never know everything. That’s because the discussions about our property are being held in secret and we, the public, don’t get to hear them. Don’t get to hear the arguments or the rational behind ANY of council’s airport decisions. So much for openness and transparency.
And council also got rid of the Integrity Commissioner, Monday, just to be sure no one could investigate them.
All we can do is look from the outside and see what a mess council has made of things and continues to worsen the regional relationships that took decades to build.
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