A planned runway extension at Erik Nielsen International Airport could mean the rezoning of an environmentally protected area for airport use.
The proposal to designate land in the Puckett’s Gulch area as an airport, rather than the current environmental protection area, was presented at the Whitehorse City Council meeting on August 1.
Plans would also see part of the airport trail, fence, road and manhole moved to make way for the longer runway.
As Barrett Hatton, program manager with the Department of Highways and Public Works, explained in a presentation to the board, the airport currently operates the runway with an exemption, but under Transport Canada regulations, the A larger 150-meter runway is expected to be needed for 737 traffic as passenger volumes return to pre-pandemic levels.
737s are flown by companies like Air North, WestJet and Air Canada.
The current airport boundaries do not allow for expansion, so the territory is requesting the rezoning of municipal lands adjacent to the airport.
The changes will mean moving part of the airport pathway, road, manhole and fencing to the area to comply with regulations which state that the runway strip must be cleared of all fixed objects.
Before going to council for consideration, the proposal was reviewed by the city’s Development Review Committee (DRC), which cited several concerns about the plans.
Among them were the landslides that occurred from late April to June, as the airport is located above the downtown escarpment.
“In light of the escarpment landslides that have recently occurred in the city, the DRC has found it necessary that geotechnical, surface drainage, escarpment stability and construction plans be provided,” Marois said.
It was determined by the administration that the issues raised by the DRC could be resolved through other processes such as changes to the escarpment policy, terms of the development agreement and more.
Hatton said the stairs should not be affected by the plans.
Throughout the meeting, the importance of the trail to the community was emphasized by council members as well as by Peter Long, a delegate who also addressed council regarding the proposed rezoning.
Long describes the heavy use of the trail and the history of the area, arguing that it has the potential to lead to the trail’s demise. He also pointed to the area as a wildlife corridor, noting that coyotes, lynx, deer and bears have been reported there.
Much of the council’s discussion also focused on the trail, with some saying a public meeting should be called by the Yukon government to outline the plans.
Although the city’s zoning bylaw allows council to call such a meeting, it can only be done after first reading.
Com. Dan Boyd said the trail is important to the community, but also described the airport as “essential infrastructure”.
“We are seeing a lot of supply chain issues,” he said. “We’ve seen disruptions on the Alaska Highway over the last four or five years, a few of them. We have seen it where weather or environmental conditions have restricted access to the North. Our flights to and from Whitehorse are absolutely essential, used extremely well by our commercial economy for the quality of life that Yukoners enjoy.
The first reading of the rezoning bylaw is scheduled for August 8. If passed, a public hearing on the plans will take place on September 12 and a report will then be presented to council on October 3 before the final two readings of the bylaw on October 3. 11.
If rezoning were adopted, a long process of transferring the land to the territory would begin with a modification of the planning policy for the downtown escarpment to reflect the change in zoning. Alienation, subdivision and formal transfer of the lands would follow, including the development agreement.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at [email protected]