Nunavut MLAs keep pressing for community airport upgrades
ED&T minister George Kuksuk says government trying to prioritize
Two Nunavut MLAs have urged the government to start putting money into their aging community airports.
At the Nunavut legislative assembly March 7, South Baffin MLA David Joanasie and Aivilik MLA Steve Mapsalak grilled Economic Development and Transportation Minister George Kuksuk about when they can expect upgrades to their community airports.
Joanasie said Kimmirut’s airport is “one of the most challenging airports in the entire country” and its airstrip needs to be relocated.
But nothing has been done since 2011, when the government said they would consider doing a feasibility study for the airstrip relocation, he said.
Former South Baffin MLA Fred Schell lobbied for a new airstrip for years.
Joanasie asked the minister if the government plans to proceed with a feasibility study next year.
“I cannot just say yes or no, but I will look into it with my department to see where they are right now with this issue,” Kuksuk responded.
Joanasie then went on to ask why past funding was approved for relocating Pangnirtung’s airport, but not Kimmirut’s.
Kuksuk said some airports in Nunavut “are adequate and some are kind of dangerous.”
“The areas where there are mountains have problems. Some airstrips are too low and communities are encroaching up those areas,” Kuksuk said.
“We will look into the matter,” he said.
Joanasie then brought up Iqaluit’s new $300-million airport project.
He asked why the Government of Nunavut is “prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new airport for Iqaluit” but is “unable or unwilling to assist Kimmirut in relocating its airport.”
Kuksuk said the territorial government keeps an eye on all airports, “and we have to carefully apply finances to them as well. Kimmirut airport is the same situation.”
For Repulse Bay, it’s the terminal building, not the airstrip, that’s causing problems.
And Mapsalak said its terminal is overcrowded, cold and dangerous, and needs to be replaced entirely.
“Some of them even have to wait outside for their flight, because there is no room in the terminal, and the people coming out of the plane have no room in the terminal,” Mapsalak said.
Kuksuk agreed that the terminal needs replacement, “however, our department is reviewing the issue of replacing air terminals based on the needs and priorities of our communities.”
Mapsalak questioned why the needs of Repulse Bay, with a population of 1,000, are not a priority.
“How can anyone not grasp the urgency of the situation based on my statement about passengers who have to wait outside, both incoming and outbound passengers?” Mapsalak said.
“I would like an explanation as to how we can make this an urgent and timely item for replacement.”
Kuksuk said many airport terminals suffer from electrical problems, are too small and that “many of them are in critical situations.”
“We have to carefully look at all of these matters and we have to realistically follow the procedure where we determine priorities,” Kuksuk said.
The Assembly has yet to release its capital budget for 2014-2015.
That’s expected to happen soon.