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Brockton, Hanover and West Grey hold joint meeting to discuss Saugeen Municipal Airport’s future

April 26, 2024  By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

ELMWOOD — The joint meeting of the three municipalities that own and operate Saugeen Municipal Airport attracted a large crowd at the Elmwood Community Centre on April 17 – an estimated 50 people who attended in person and enough online viewers that they crashed the site.

That’s in addition to the members of the three municipal councils – West Grey, Hanover and Brockton – and various staff members, as well as Dean Leifso, who chaired the meeting, and Fiona Hamilton, Brockton’s clerk, who acted as recording secretary.

Those in attendance were reminded the event was a joint council meeting, with no provision in the agenda for public comments or questions.

The meeting was more of an opportunity for everyone to put their cards on the table than a venue for decision making. In the end, no decisions were made, except that discussion will continue, by each individual council.


The meeting opened with the presentation of the airport’s audited financial report from 2022 (2023’s is done but not yet available). Then each mayor read their prepared statement, as printed in the agenda on the Brockton municipal website.

West Grey’s Mayor Kevin Eccles began by saying the airport “brings economic advantages to the residents and businesses in the partner municipalities.” He went on to say that private ownership could “open up new opportunities for the airport.” He also said he looks forward to gathering more information to make a well-informed decision.

Brockton’s Mayor Chris Peabody stated the airport has been subsidized over the years by the municipalities that own it, and Brockton has been approached a number of times by people interested in purchasing the airport. His statement outlined three options – sell to another member municipality, sell to a third party, or renegotiate the agreement.

Hanover’s Mayor Sue Paterson opened with a comment about seeking “further understanding and to have healthy dialogue with respect to our shared asset.” She spoke of benefits brought to the communities by the airport, and said Hanover council is encouraged by the work of the airport commission about the potential of the airport, with the region “on the cusp of initiatives such as the Isotope Coalition … and potential DGR.”

The section of the agenda about “discussion about future options” proved to be less of a council discussion than an opportunity for Saugeen Municipal Airport Commission chair Dave Hocking (Hanover

councillor), and to a lesser extent, vice-chair Tom Hutchinson (West Grey councillor), to voice opinions about the vaunted airport business plan, which was not produced at the meeting, and the airport’s potential in regional development, in part guided by assistance from Grey County in building a vision for the future, as well as how selling the airport to private interests would be a mistake. Hocking was also openly critical of what he described as Brockton’s lack of interest in the airport.

Brockton’s SMAC representative, Coun. Carl Kuhnke, also spoke of the airport’s potential, only from a different viewpoint, saying the partner municipalities don’t have the money to allow the airport to reach its potential; selling to “a competent developer” would allow it to achieve the vision that Hocking described.

As the meeting continued, Hocking repeated his main points – asking for time, stating the airport’s economic potential, and warning that selling the “asset” would be a mistake.

He also told Brockton that the original airport bylaw allows any member to leave the partnership with two years’ notice.

West Grey’s Coun. Geoffrey Shea acknowledged the airport was a great community asset.

“I just don’t see why municipalities should have a role in it,” he said, continuing with, “If I were an investor, I would not want to partner with a municipality.” He closed by saying he liked Brockton’s options.

Peabody asked that one point be clarified.

Brockton turned down a request for an increase in the airport budget in 2023. With the 2024 budget, “we didn’t discuss the airport.” He said there was no formal request for an increase, although “I was open to one (to keep up with inflation).”

West Grey Deputy Mayor Tom Hutchinson spoke of the vision for the airport, and business plan, and noted that “if you sell it, you can’t get it back.” He went on to say that developing the airport’s potential will “take all three partners at the table.”

Brockton Coun. Kym Hutcheon said that her opinion was the SMA “has promised economic development “for years, with none forthcoming. “I just can’t support it anymore.”

Kuhnke added his comments, saying he’s “fully in favour of an airport.” However, “government is not very good at running public assets.” He referred to “huge infrastructure issues and minimal assets,” and said he doesn’t think a partnership of three small, rural municipalities has the financial resources to develop the airport. “Selling to a competent developer is the way of realizing the vision,” he said.

Both Hutchinson and Hocking took issue with Kunke’s statement about infrastructure problems. “I’m flabbergasted,” said Hocking.

Brockton’s Coun. Tim Elphick, who has had a different view from the rest of council about what should happen with the airport, described it as “a municipal asset,” albeit an “underperforming” one. He also said the agreement does need to be looked at.

Eccles agreed, noting the partnership has changed quite a lot since 1990, when it formed. Municipal amalgamation had not yet occurred.

Eccles went on to say the airport, like an arena, is not suddenly going to start making money.

As for future directions, he envisioned one where the airport would be redundant, with transportation becoming “vertical” rather than horizontal. “Transportation is changing,” he said.

Brockton Coun. Mitch Clark commented, “We can’t see the future, but we can see 29 years of data.” That data shows that municipalities have provided about 50 per cent of the airport’s revenue. “Is this what the general public wants?” he asked. He said he’d prefer to see a third party operating the airport.

Hanover Coun. Brandon Koebel said he’d like to see a 10-year projection for the airport.

During discussion on next steps, Hamilton provided clarification on legislation governing the partnership. “There is an agreement,” she said. “There is also the Corporations Act.” She suggested the municipalities may want to seek legal advice on the matter in closed session.

There was discussion about the agreement that’s in place; it’s supposed to be reviewed every five years, although the last time that happened was 2012.

The meeting chair summed up the discussion by saying, “Each council should go back and decide how they want to move forward.” At Eccles’ suggestion, he gave a timeline of two months for that to take place.

Leifso also spoke of setting up an ad hoc committee.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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