“I’m more concerned with living a few more months than I am about airports,” said Archie (T.V.) MacLellan.
In the Campbellton Road kitchen of the house his father moved him to from “another mountain” in the Margaree area in 1945, the 88-year-old is well aware of the rumours — that his mountain just north of
Inverness may soon be home to an airport.
Rumours make up much of the discussion about what would be Cape Breton’s third (and most controversial) airport. Neither the federal nor provincial government have, so far, been willing to reveal any details.
Infrastructure Canada is so far only saying they are considering a proposal for an airport from the province.
The latter, meanwhile, is only willing to confirm that they submitted a proposal after the federal government requested one.
The mayor of Port Hawkesbury is claiming she learned from staff at Infrastructure Canada that the airport would be paid for by taxpayers to the tune of $18 million, split by the feds and the province.
In April, Cabot co-founder and managing director Ben Cowan-Dewar registered the Cape Breton Island Airport Community Interest Company. Its other two directors are Jennifer Alkenbrack, an accountant for Cabot Links, and Daniel Gallivan, CEO of Halifax law firm Cox and Palmer.
The Cape Breton Island Airport Community Interest Company doesn’t own any land, and a search of provincial property records shows Cabot Links doesn’t have any holdings large enough to accommodate a runway.
So where’s the airport going to be built?
The Department of Natural Resources is refusing to say if any of its land — there’s a large tract above Campbellton Road — is part of an airport proposal.
“There is no airport project at this point,” said department spokeswoman Lisa Jarrett on Friday via a written statement.
“Any decisions on land use would be premature.”
DNR was willing to confirm, however, that it had previously evaluated its land around the Strathlorne Tree Nursery as a potential site and found it inadequate.
According to Cape Breton Canso MP Rodger Cuzner, there very much is a project on the table.
“It’s not a done deal yet and I can’t give you a date on when it will get the thumbs up or the thumbs down,” said Cuzner.
The airport would be owned by a non-profit specifically created to run it with Cabot Links underwriting any operational deficits, said Cuzner.
Any profits would go toward promoting tourism in the area.
“We sunk money into developing the of Port in Sydney and they’re continuing to bring in a second berth to increase their capacity — that’s us investing in tourism infrastructure in Sydney,” said Cuzner.
“Through DFO’s Small Craft Harbour (program) the federal government has invested $18 million this year alone — that’s public money going into infrastructure to help the fishing industry which I support 100 per cent. I see (an Inverness airport) as the same thing.”
One problem is that the project would undermine tourism infrastructure in the Strait of Canso area.
In fact, it aims to.
A Cabot Links proposal for an airport, submitted to the province by the Municipality of Inverness in 2014, stated that the new airport would poach $80,000 in annual revenue from the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport.
“This increased revenue is exclusively golfer generated,” reads the proposal.
“The $80,000 in revenues is transferable with of the opening of Cape Breton Island Airport securing well over 50 per cent of operations for the new facility.”
But the county ultimately backed away from its proposal for $9 million to convert its airstrip in Margaree to an airport capable of handling regional flights.
That, for Cuzner, is the justification for the use of public funds — Port Hawkesbury has never been able to attract regular flights from a commercial carrier.
“This is about scheduled flights in and out of Inverness from Toronto and maybe New York or Boston,” said Cuzner.
“Discussions have taken place with service providers and the proponent is confident in that.”
But if it doesn’t get scheduled flights, the taxpayer is just building a runway long sought after by the billionaire owner of Cabot Links.
“(Cabot Links owner Mike Keiser) is ‘95 per cent confident’ the government will build an airport nearer to the resort, with direct flights likely from Toronto if not New York and other U.S. cities eventually,” reads a 2014 Golf Digest story based upon an interview with Keiser.
Phillip Jennex thinks it’s easier to promise regular commercial flights than it is to make them happen.
“There would need to be a certified security service to screen passengers and baggage,” wrote the former manager of the Port Hawkesbury Airport to The Chronicle Herald.
“There would need to be building infrastructure in place to handle this. There would need to be an airport/aircraft marshaller for every commercial landing, baggage handlers who are certified to touch/load an aircraft, etc. The airport itself would need to be fenced to assure that no uncleared person could easily access the airside operation. Then there is the issue of fuel services. Charter passengers never load or unload in the scheduled commercial services areas of any airport, so they do not need any of these services to be in place.”
The associated costs with providing those services for a limited number of flights, he warns, would mean fees for use would be too high for a regular carrier.
“Can anyone provide the names of the airlines who will provide this identified service?” wrote Jennex. “Can anyone provide the names of the locals who are willing to take on all of the responsibilities of owning an airport? Can anyone provide the risk assessment documentation that was created to go along with this capitol expense decision?”
Those, like the location, we will have to wait to see.
If you drive further up the Campbellton Road past MacLellan’s home, it turns into more of a four-wheeler trail.
You’ll come to an insulated cabin inhabited by his nephew, Bob MacLellan.
There’s little on the walls other than a map of his 40 hectares the carpenter has been trying unsuccessfully to turn into a subdivision.
If Ben Cowan-Dewar wants land for an airport, he’d welcome a visit.
“I was talking to a friend in Boston and he said to me if an airport comes anywhere around they’re going to need land for development,” said MacLellan, who is ready to give up on his subdivision dreams.
“Without a doubt that golf course has helped everything here. If Cabot Links wants land, I’m open to offers.”