August 2, 2022 By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze
One of the growing news stories of 2022 is the increased cost of living resulting from inflation and supply-chain issues. Individuals, businesses and governments alike have had to adjust their budgets to accommodate costs that may not have been initially anticipated.
MD of Pincher Creek council approved one such adjustment for the airport during its July 12 regular council meeting. Replacing the airfield lighting system for $917,000 was initially passed during the May 18 meeting, but after the project was tendered out in June the lowest bid to return was $125,000 higher than the MD’s estimate.
There is a chance not all of the funds will be used as $100,000 would cover upgrading the 5,000-foot runway to its full 6,600-foot length. The MD was also responsible only for a portion of the initial $917,000 price tag since $585,000 was being provided through the Alberta government’s Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program.
Close to a third of the $332,000 the MD will pay is dependent on whether the runway will be extended, with $72,000 going toward line painting and $25,000 needed for updating flight charts.
The project would replace the airport’s electrical infrastructure, which is over 40 years old. The taxiway and apron edge lighting, the precision approach path indicators, as well as the airfield directional signage and field electric centre would all be replaced.
A new lighting system would increase energy efficiency and re-establish the ability for flight crews to land at night and during inclement weather, allowing the airport to better serve forestry fire attack aircraft, emergency medical flights, and private and corporate aviation.
The budgetary request is one of several in recent council meetings, which Coun. Dave Cox said was a little concerning.
“Is there a reason we’re running low on our budgets because this seems to be a common ask? I‘m trying to get my head wrapped around why we’re always supplementing,” he said. “Is there an issue with our budget process or just the circumstances of the time?”
Inflation and material cost was the driving force behind many of the budget-adjustment requests, particularly for the MD’s bridge file and water infrastructure projects, replied director of capital projects David Desabrais.
“Inflation and material cost has gone up significantly this year,” he added. “I think it’s common outside this MD as well that there’s been a significant over-contingency increase in material, fuel and other inflation-related items.”
For example, the MD’s estimate for replacing the airfield generator was $50,000; the contractor’s estimate was $86,000. For the upcoming 2023 budget, Desabrais continued, accounting for greater contingency costs would help ensure budgeted amounts are sufficient for the MD’s capital projects.
“Hopefully I don’t have to come back as much in 2023,” Desabrais said.
As it happened, council members feared Desabrais would in fact need to return with a request for more money for the airfield since the lowest bid, from Black & McDonald Ltd., was just shy of $1 million below the highest bid. That large a spread between five bidders was a red flag, said Reeve Rick Lemire.
“Either we’re going to come back in a year or they’re going to be asking for way more money. Dave’s going to be in that chair again asking for more money, I can pretty well guarantee it,” he added.
With the second-lowest bid still close to half-a-million dollars more, the reeve also expressed concerns the quality of work might not be adequate.
“To me, there’s something out of whack here,” he said.
While acknowledging the difference between bids was unusual, Leo Reedyk said Black & McDonald had a sound history of quality work, having completed projects at the Calgary Airport. Reedyk once was director of operations for the MD and, given his experience working with airports, was asked to assist in the project.
Black & McDonald also recently finished work at the Medicine Hat Airport, which gave a glowing review when Reedyk contacted them for a reference.
“On budget, good work, good communication, workable and willing to adopt to circumstances, no safety issues — the references were 100 per cent positive,” Reedyk said. “I’ve got a good feeling about them.”
Surveying and plan designs are currently underway for the lighting system. Work on the airport is scheduled to begin at the end of August and completion is expected near the end of March.