The first major step in improvements to the Dawson City Airport is underway, with plans to begin construction this summer of a new airport maintenance building.
Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn reviewed general details and scheduling of the airport project in a ministerial statement to the legislature Wednesday.
Mostyn told the house the cost of the maintenance building is estimated at $7.7 million, and completion is scheduled for 2019.
There is also money in this year’s budget to do the necessary planning and engineering work to pave the runway next year, the minister said.
“We are making solid progress on our goal of modernizing the Dawson City Airport,” said Mostyn.
“We are starting construction on an all-new, all-weather maintenance facility at the airport this summer, as I stated earlier this afternoon, and the facility is slated for completion the summer of 2019.
“It is a piece of infrastructure that is integral to the Dawson City Airport paving project, which we plan to do next summer.”
Mostyn did face challenges in the legislature from both opposition parties regarding different aspects of the airport project.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson told the legislature her party supports the construction of a maintenance facility that will provide airport employees with the comfort of working inside a heated building.
There are, however, questions about the wisdom of paving the runway in its current location, she suggested.
Hanson said it’s clear Transport Canada will not license the airport for nighttime use nor instrument flight rules because of the natural terrain obstacles created by the location of the runway.
“...There are many outstanding questions to be discussed regarding the risks and benefits of proceeding with paving of the Dawson Airport runway, at least as long as that runway remains in the same location,” the NDP leader said.
She pointed out that paving the runway will not create greater flexibility for Air North to choose a different aircraft for serving its northern route because the Old Crow runway is still not paved.
It seems the more Mostyn and Premier Sandy Silver say the paving project makes sense, the more they believe it does, Hanson told the legislature.
The aviation industry and the territory’s business community have been lobbying in recent years to have the runway paved.
Having it paved creates new opportunities, such as allowing for larger aircraft to fly in more visitors from Alaska, like a greater volume of Holland America’s clients, they maintain.
The tender for the design and construction of the 10,764-square-foot maintenance building was issued March 27. It will close April 30.
There is no heated maintenance garage at the Dawson airport, as there is in Watson Lake, Whitehorse and Old Crow.
Interim Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard asked whether the overall $16-million budget for the project included expected increases in prices as a result of the Liberals’ planned carbon tax.
He asked Mostyn to confirm whether the annual operating and maintenance budget for the Dawson airport will increase by $700,000 once the improvements are complete.
Hassard also wanted to know if the government has received the required approvals for the maintenance building from Transport Canada and Nav Canada.
It is concerning the government still doesn’t know the full scope of the project but has put forward the overall budget for $16 million, he said.
Hassard told the legislature $16 million is a substantial amount of money. He wanted to know if improvements to other airports are being provided for.
“For example, the Mayo Airport is in need of improvements to deal with increased traffic from the mining activity in the area,” said Hassard. “Will the minister be making major improvements to all airports, or just ones in the premier’s riding?” (Silver represents the Klondike riding, which includes Dawson.)
Mostyn said the territorial Liberal party promised to pave the runway during its 2016 election campaign – and that’s just what it’s doing.
He was critical of the former Yukon Party government and how it promised to pave the runway – but did very little to advance the project. There was next to no background material available when the Liberals took office in late 2016, Mostyn told the legislature.
“In terms of increased maintenance costs, we are anticipating an increase of about $700,000 once the runway is paved,” the minister said.
“As I have indicated in the past, this is the beginning of a multi-year project to improve the important Dawson City Airport and its infrastructure. It is a very important piece of economic infrastructure in the north Yukon, and it needs some attention.”
“... I think it is time for the official Opposition to decide whether it supports this project or not,” said Mostyn.