Edmonton City Centre Airport Decision: Phased Closure

City Council voted today to implement a phased closure of the City Centre Airport. The motion put forward by Councillor Gibbons described two phases and passed by a vote of 10-3. I’m happy with the decision that was made today, and I commend Council for taking a courageous step toward ensuring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan are realized.

Here is the vote breakdown for adopting the motion (which you can download here):

Councillor Karen Leibovici (Ward 1) Yes
Councillor Linda Sloan (Ward 1) No
Councillor Ron Hayter (Ward 2) No
Councillor Kim Krushell (Ward 2) Yes
Councillor Ed Gibbons (Ward 3) Yes
Councillor Tony Caterina (Ward 3) No
Councillor Jane Batty (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Ben Henderson (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Bryan Anderson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Don Iveson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Amarjeet Sohi (Ward 6) Yes
Councillor Dave Thiele (Ward 6) Yes
Mayor Stephen Mandel Yes

Council started discussing the issue at 1:30pm, and didn’t wrap up until nearly 6pm. There were at least four rounds of questioning, driven largely by Councillors Caterina and Sloan who were vehemently opposed to the motion. After the questioning finally ended, Councillor Caterina put forward a motion to refer the issue to Administration which was soundly defeated.

Three amendments were made to the original motion. Councillor Iveson’s two amendments were “friendly”. Councillor Krushell’s amendment stated that after scheduled service licenses expire at ECCA in June of 2012, that they not be renewed. All three amendments were approved, and as soon as the final motion is online I’ll link to it which you can download here (PDF).

It became clear as Councillors gave their final remarks that the motion was going to pass. I thought Councillors Henderson, Iveson, and Krushell made excellent comments about why this decision needed to be made, speaking in particular about the future. Councillor Leibovici mentioned the role of social networking in this debate (more on that in a future post). Mayor Mandel used his time to make it clear that “this is a closure motion.” Councillor Gibbons used his time to get a dig in at Councillor Caterina, saying “if you can’t win, don’t bring it forward.”

After the vote passed, a motion from Councillor Sloan was brought forward that called into question the legality of Councillor Gibbons’ motion (the City’s legal counsel gave the OK hours earlier). It also requested that quarterly updates be provided to Council on legal issues related to the City Centre Airport. The motion was split – the first part was defeated, the second part (quarterly updates) passed.

What happens next?

The following will happen immediately:

  • Runway 16-34 will be closed. General aviation business activities will be adjusted to accommodate a one-runway airport. Medivac service will be maintained.
  • As a result, a GPS landing system will likely be added to runway 12-30.
  • The parcel of lands adjacent to runway 16-34 that can be surrendered to the City once the runway is closed will be identified.
  • Negotiations will begin with NAIT and the Province of Alberta to allow for NAIT expansion.
  • The City of Edmonton will create a development office and will work to set out long-term visioning plans for the ECCA lands in their entirety. The plan will be presented to Council by November 2009.
  • Plans for realignment of the NAIT LRT line based on the closure of 16-34 will be provided to Council no later than September 2009.
  • The downtown plan will be adjusted to take into consideration the immediate removal of the overlay height restrictions.
  • The City of Edmonton will develop a communications strategy to inform the public about the impact of this decision.
  • The City Manager will negotiate with Edmonton Regional Airport Authority (ERAA) to make mutually acceptable lease amendments.

The following will happen sometime in the future:

  • ERAA will work with Alberta Health Services on a long-term system design to facilitate Medivac operations at the Edmonton International Airport or other regional airports.
  • The final closure date will be determined by City Council with input from ERAA when the lands are required to support the long-term land development plan.
  • After the final closure date is set, environmental remediation will take place.

What does this mean?

Council decided today to close the City Centre Airport. They stopped short of attaching dates however, which makes the motion much weaker than it could have been (during my live-tweeting I called it “gutless”). Both Mayor Mandel and Councillor Henderson addressed this in their final remarks, stating that Council’s intentions should not be misinterpreted – the intention is to close the airport.

I fear the lack of a timeline will open the door for this to be discussed again in the future, however. At what point are the lands “required to support the long-term land development plan”? Who decides that and brings it forward, especially if the City is to be the developer of those lands? I do believe that the direction is clear, that the airport is to be closed, but the lack of a final closure date makes me uncomfortable.

It’s important to realize that we’re a long way from seeing the airport completely closed. New communities are not developed overnight, and especially not world-class, transit-oriented ones. The City needs to take the time to come up with a solid, exciting plan that Edmontonians readily support.

Final Thoughts

I think Council made a bold statement today. By voting to close the City Centre Airport, Council made it clear that they’re willing to do what it takes to ensure Edmonton’s future is bright. I think today’s decision was an important step in the push to create a more vibrant, sustainable, innovative, and livable Edmonton.

The City Centre Airport will be closed, and that’s good for Edmonton.

UPDATE (7/9/2009): You can download the final version of the motion here (PDF).