Discussions continue on airport land-use issues

NANAIMO - Airport and Regional District of Nanaimo discuss finalize memorandum of understanding regarding land use.

The Regional District of Nanaimo and Nanaimo Airport are in discussions to create a memorandum of understanding on land-use issues.

The memorandum is part of the second phase of the airport’s land-use process that began last year. The first phase, which included public consultation and a report, was completed this summer. In October the RDN board of directors carried a motion to proceed on the memorandum of understanding discussions.

Mike Hooper, president and CEO of the Nanaimo Airport, said the airport created a draft of memorandum with the Regional District of Nanaimo several years ago and the current process is just to ensure all aspects are incorporated.

“It’s been an ongoing conversation for a number of years,” he said, adding the airport has also been in discussions with three regional districts including the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

“We’ve been involved in the public process for the last 25 years on the airport uses. We created a master plan in 2004 and involved the public,” said Hooper. “We want to make sure we meet the needs of the community.”

Laurie Gourlay, president of the Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative, said the opportunity for the public to participate in the first phase during consultation for the report was minimal.

“The consultant promised to have a meeting with MISSI and didn’t and the public consultation was done during the elections so opportunities to participate were minimal,” he said.

During the first phase, the public raised concerns about the impact of development on the aquifers in the area, which include the Yellow Point and Cassidy aquifers.

Gourlay said there is concern that oil and other pollutants could make their way to the aquifer, which connects to the Nanaimo River.

The consultant’s report also indicated that there was “significant concern” around the lack of certainty about the future development on airport land. Gourlay said the public is concerned about the potential to build other industry or commercial structures on the property that aren’t related to airport operations if zoning bylaws are changed.

“The airport previously talked about commercial development … they are not talking to us about what their plans are and you don’t know what might be in the works,” said Gourlay. “There is a need for local citizens to look into the matter and provide their own independent review.”

Hooper said the airport goes beyond regulation to ensure environmental concerns are addressed, which includes bringing in the appropriate specialists to assess environmental impacts.

Paul Thompson, RDN manager of long range planning, said there’s no timeline as to when the discussion and memorandum draft will be completed. When the memorandum is complete, the RDN would hold a public review. If the two parties sign the agreement it may require the district to make changes to the electoral area A Official Community Plan, which includes Cassidy, Cedar, Yellow Point and South Wellington, and an amendment to the zoning bylaw.

Thompson said there will be opportunities for the public to comment on the process during every phase.

“The intention is to have as much public input as we can,” he said.