Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

PUTTING IT IN PLACE – Gerd Mannsperger, right, watches Monday as the first of two containers is prepared to be set in place. Another will be stacked on top to provide an office and storage space for Alpine Aviation at the floatplane dock on Schwatka Lake. Star photo by VINCE FEDOROFF

City dragging its feet on dock space: aviators

Local pilots say the city has done virtually nothing to provide more dock space for float planes at Schwatka Lake since the area plan was adopted in 2015.

By Chuck Tobin on April 30, 2019

Local pilots say the city has done virtually nothing to provide more dock space for float planes at Schwatka Lake since the area plan was adopted in 2015.

They say the city keeps coming up with excuses about why it can’t move forward on the issue, but from what they see, there hasn’t been any sincere attempt to provide more dock space.

There hasn’t been any initiative to provide the additional parking space required to not only accommodate more float planes, but to accommodate the rising number of others who use Schwatka Lake and the area for all kinds of recreational activity.

Just go down to the Schwatka Lake Road on a nice evening and see how many vehicles pulling boats are lined up to launch from the public ramp, suggested Gerd Mannsperger, the owner of Alpine Aviation.

Mannsperger said in an interview Tuesday if it’s not one excuse, it’s another. If it’s not the issue of parking, he told the Star, it’s the issue of having the land transferred from the Yukon government to the city.

And now it’s the city’s director of development services telling city council Monday night nothing can be done until the road is widened and improved, Mannsperger said.

“It’s almost like they just don’t want to do it,” he said. “And that is what is frustrating the community.”

He said the float plane pilots don’t want to get into a fight with city hall, because nothing productive would come of it.

What needs to happen is all three levels of government – the federal and Yukon governments and the city – need to sit down and forge a consensus on how to move on the development plan of 2015, he said.

Mannsperger said some aspects of the plan have been addressed, but not the meat and potatoes.

This is not just a float plane issue, he insisted, but an issue to accommodate the increasing usage of the area by everybody – boaters, hikers, paddleboarders....

Mannsperger said the inability to expand the number of float plane docks affects tourism by limiting the number of clients commercial outfits can accommodate.

City officials hosted a meeting last Friday to update the float plane community.

Coun. Dan Boyd asked the city’s director of development services Monday evening if there is something city council could do to help expedite the provision of more parking and dock space.

It’s a matter of providing the float plane community with the necessary infrastructure they need to support commercial tourism, he said.

Director Mike Gau told council staff are working on the implementation of the plan, have completed several of the recommendations and continue to work on it.

But road safety is the city’s problem, he said.

“We can’t create a lot of those dock spaces in the plan until the road is widened,” he told council.

Gau explained in an interview Tuesday there is no money in the city budget to do the engineering and design work for road improvements, let alone construction.

But council is adamant it would like to see the project move ahead sooner rather than later so they’ll be talking to the Yukon government to see if they can assist, and will look for other possible sources of funding, he said.

Gau suggested it’s not going to happen overnight but perhaps in a year or two, at the earliest.

Generally speaking, he said, the city is not far behind the implementation schedule set out in 2015.

There are currently 19 dock spaces leased out to 17 operators, of whom eight are commercial and nine are private pilots, according to the city.

There are 17 operators on the wait list, of whom six are commercial and 11 are private. The wait time is estimated at six to nine years.

Like Mannsperger, local pilot Kyle Cameron said Monday the city cites parking, the land transfer and the road right-of-way as issues that need to be addressed before more dock space for float planes can be provided.

The city has ticked off several of the recommendations in the 2015 plan, such as improving signage, and upgrading the public boat launch, he said.

Cameron said there’s virtually been no movement on the major issues in the last four years, such as parking.

Last Friday, a local pilot and civil engineer offered his services for free to do a preliminary design of the parking areas identified in the Schwatka area map, he said.

He said another local pilot who’s a consultant with extensive experience working with environmental assessments offered his free services to help the city move an application through the screening process conducted by the environmental assessment board.

The city, said Cameron, did not provide any real answers last Friday to explain the lack of progress.

And like Mannsperger, Cameron insisted this is not just an issue for float plane operators, as some would characterize it. It is indeed an issue for all recreational users of the area, he said.

Civil engineer Iain de la Mare said Monday developing the parking areas identified on the map would not be complicated whatsoever. They’re flat with a good gravel base, he pointed out.

He said it would be a matter of removing the trees and levelling out the lots.

It’s so straightforward, that if the will was there, they could probably go through the screening process this summer and be ready to move dirt this fall, but certainly by next year, he said.

Gau told council Monday evening they have a consultant looking at how they can take over ownership of the Yukon government land between the waterfront and the White Pass railway line without having to get it surveyed.

In October 2018, they applied for the transfer of one lot on the waterfront owned by the Yukon government that would assist with parking pressure and provide storage space, he said.

Gau told council there is the potential to have the lot transferred late this year.

Comments (16)

Up 1 Down 0

Frank Michigan on May 6, 2019 at 6:02 pm

What does it cost to keep a plane at the airport vs pay for a dock.
In many areas commercial operators have floats with wheels.
Just saying it would be quicker but not sure about the cost.

Up 10 Down 26

Herdtheturds Thompson on May 3, 2019 at 9:35 am

Why are these rich plane operators such whiners? There is thousands of km of potential lake front around other lakes, why are they so stuck on this lake? This is a major salmon spawning area and all those airplanes leak oil especially the beaver. Why don’t they just pick a different lake and pollute that one and you talk to gord and he’ll tell you it isn’t the best lake to land in especially when it’s windy, the air sucks you. Also, know another guy who bypassed the wait list cause he bought a $100,000 plane that had dock space there so it’s all about making the rich, richer.

Up 10 Down 5

Josey Wales on May 3, 2019 at 8:48 am

Given the volume of rats we now have in our cage, the traffic, the issues that come with said extra rats...some more airplane noise would be welcome.
After all it may help drown out those noisy, state sanctioned enabling taxis that shuttle folks from our composted core and across the river to WGH ER 24/7/365
Also too it may cause folks to look up into the sky, giving their eyes a break from the hordes of drunken/high zombies that I suggest seem to free range unmolested by our law enforcement.
Why no crane needed for the elites on the other side of that synthetic lake?
Ahhh nothing quite says wilderness, like having a sea can in the forest, or beside the ol fire hall. A stroll riverside is enriched ever so by yup....another elitist double standard, um ahh aaa uuummm NOT!
Three things I think quantify old school Canada very well, trees, beavers, and float planes.
Suppose that is why only the one crane needed, as it promotes old school Canada. Seems that is not progressive and inclusive enough for hipsters, SJWs and the myriad of elites which are often all the same folk.

Up 14 Down 0

DDL on May 2, 2019 at 7:53 pm

There has been nearly a 100% increase in passenger traffic through the international airport over the course of the past decade, hence the construction of the terminal addition and improvements to the facilities. So the comparison does apply. The point I was trying to illustrate is that there are many subdivisions that face inconvenience or annoyance from economic and recreational activities, I live in porter creek, when people ride loud motor cycles by my house or a plane flies over on approach I don’t immediately go to the reaction that the road should be moved or the airport shut down.

Also, to your point of examining the entire issue of utilizing Schwatka as a float plane base, well it has been closely examined multiple times. Once in 1995 and the latest being the 2015 study that created the SLAP that council adopted in 2016. All operators are asking for, is that the plan be implemented as adopted.

As I stated in my previous comment, even if you wanted to, it would be really hard to restrict traffic on the lake as it is covered under the navigable water ways act. You could restrict dock space but not people from landing or taking off.

I don’t have evidence to back this claim, but I am sure that traffic on Lewes Blvd and emergency vehicles generate nearly as much overall noise pollution for Riverdale than seasonal float operations 4 months out the year, and generally (although not always) departures from the lake occur to the south into the prevailing wind.

Up 4 Down 18

Wes on May 2, 2019 at 8:00 am

DDL wrote "Some other arguments have been made that there is a noise issue for Riverdale, if you apply this argument to the float base, you have to apply it to the airport as a whole." No, you don't have to apply it to the airport as a whole, because the issue I raised is specific to operations off of Schwatka, and by the numbers of operators asking for more dock space, operations off the lake will increase drastically. If operations off of the airport were to increase in such a manner, maybe that would be a more relevant comparison.
Regardless, I only suggested that perhaps the use of the lake should be examined more closely.

Up 27 Down 5

Groucho d'North on May 1, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Perhaps it would be prudent to develop the east side of Schwatka Lake for public use; picnic areas, boat launchs etc. where it is more accessible to hiking trails and leave the west side available for commercial operators? A little cooperation is all that is required..and the requisite planning and budgets too of course.

Up 33 Down 3

DDL on May 1, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Whitehorse does not source its drinking water from Schwatka Lake.

The arguments surrounding moving the float base to another location are complicated. M Grant articulated two very legitimate and difficult to get around issues with fish lake. This has been studied at great length and each time it has been established that Schwatka is the best location for a public float plane base. I would also be surprised to see a government at any level, to actively advocate for losing public infrastructure and the associated economic benefits from their jurisdictions.

Some other arguments have been made that there is a noise issue for Riverdale, if you apply this argument to the float base, you have to apply it to the airport as a whole. The circuit for the airport puts traffic right over the city, every night just after midnight a CRJ comes into land and approaches low, slow and dirty right over PC, the northern departure path puts aircraft on climb out right over Takhini. Additionally float plane operations have been active off that lake since it was created by the Dam, nearly as long, if not longer than Riverdale has been an established subdivision. Float operations only occur 4 months out of the year, not 12 as with the airport, I am sure it can be annoying at times, but it should be no surprise to anyone currently residing or prospective residents that float plane activity occurs.

It is also questionable that you could even restrict traffic on the lake as it is a navigable water way. Float plane operators, both private and commercial are openly stating that they want to make the lake more user friendly for ALL users including boaters, sailors, bikers etc. This attitude does not seem to be reciprocal even though there are non-motorized lake options a stones throw away.

The question of public funds being utilized to develop infrastructure to support industry is a very shallow argument, again we can look at the airport. The entire operation was built and is operated using public funds. Private companies (Air North, Air Canada, etc.) use the facility for free, as it is understood that the services they provide are critical to the local and territorial economy. Local companies or private operators who have developed property on the airport grounds do pay for leases and their own developments, but the facility as a whole is public infrastructure. Nobody, with any seriousness proposes privatizing the airport, so I don't understand why people question developing a float plane base as public infrastructure with public money for commercial and private use. This is the basics of having an economy. Operators are not asking for the city to construct their individual docks or buildings they are looking for basic infrastructure that allows business to provide service to the public, private aircraft owners to engage in their activities and the general public to better take advantage of the facilities.

The slogan of our city is "The Wilderness City" float planes are a ubiquitous symbol of northern transportation and wilderness travel, we line the halls of the transportation museum with photos, stories and artifacts of bush flyers of the past. As a community we seem to pay a lot of lip service to a profession, industry and hobby that has provided incredible opportunities in the North. These services provide jobs and support associated industries, in some cases providing vital support links for food, equipment and emergency response. Yet there seems to be a lot of "not in my back yard" mentality to something that would seem to fit right in with the culture and uniqueness of our city.

Up 8 Down 33

This is a float plane issue on May 1, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Interesting how the float plane crowd reference all recreational users are affected...though there is no spokesperson from all those recreational users...likely because too many float planes on that nice narrow little lake in close proximity to the Downtown is a really dangerous sounding idea.
As usual it's pity the poor hard done by the wealthy few (they do own aircraft and really, who can afford to move an office with a crane seasonally other than someone who makes a lot of money? Off public property no less!) against the City, when really the City should be considering all other users before any more float planes.

Up 34 Down 4

M. Grant on Apr 30, 2019 at 11:16 pm

Moving the seaplane base to Fish Lake is off the table. The first two insurmountable problems are due to the altitude of Fish Lake, 1800' above Whitehorse. The location at that height above sea level means a loss of pretty much a month on either end of the operating season, as a result of ice on the lake. Secondly the altitude problem causes very diminished performance of a heavily loaded floatplane. Furthermore, the other troubles with Fish Lake are the complete lack of security and its being a basically unworkable distance from Whitehorse, particularly for commercial operators.

Up 9 Down 1

Peter Cambridge on Apr 30, 2019 at 8:48 pm

Also, what about the gated area at the southern end of the lake. There is lots of room there, a gate and parking on the road past the gate.

Up 18 Down 6

jean on Apr 30, 2019 at 7:56 pm

All additional float plane docks should be on the other side of the lake where there is plenty of space for seacans, office trailers, picnic tables, porta-potties, and parking.
No more on the Miles Canyon Road, it's already too congested.

Up 7 Down 30

Yukon Watchdog on Apr 30, 2019 at 5:48 pm

Is this not where we get our drinking water from? Please say NO to float planes here and maybe even power boats, though that might be difficult if they come from up the river.

A little off topic, but if anyone is thinking of doing any work around Schwatka and/or Miles Canyon Road, how about fixing up Miles Canyon for all those tourists and non-tourists?

Those cement stairs are real ankle/leg breakers; the handrails give out nice pressure-treated slivers (where there are handrails); talk about a need for more parking for all that tourism we're talking about. How about a garbage container near the bridge? This area is one of the most visited, if not THE most visited, Whitehorse attraction - why is no money EVER spent fixing it up???

This is prime tourism stuff right here!!! That staircase is downright dangerous. The whole area reflects years and years of neglect. Although not a money-maker for commercial operators, it is one of our greatest tourist draws and should be given some attention one of these years soon. Please give our natural attractions at least as much attention as you give our commercial operators.

Up 26 Down 4

Common Sense on Apr 30, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Popular places need parking - get on with it.

Up 40 Down 1

Peter Cambridge on Apr 30, 2019 at 4:05 pm

The real issue here is that the city does all kinds of surveys and has plans then they just do not follow through.
Was there not a change in the speed limit on the Miles Canyon road - but where are the signs?

Surely they could put in a few pull off spots and allow a few more docks.
Council should be telling city staff to get it done. Council should be more active on many files because city staff need more oversight to ensure they follow through on things.

Up 29 Down 22

Wes on Apr 30, 2019 at 3:45 pm

I’m of two minds on this.
First off, the City didn’t waste any time providing space for a sailing school, nor did it balk at allowing the canoe club space and the aforementioned sailing school to store their permanent sea cans.
Secondly though, if there are that many float plane pilots and operators awaiting space at Schwatka, maybe it’s time to have a good hard look at whether Schwatka is the most appropriate location for a busy float plane base. And it’s sounds like it will be at least double in number aircraft wise, so it will be busy. If you live in Riverdale, there is nothing more annoying than an early morning or late evening C-185 with a big McCauley on it. And just look at how busy Schwatka is getting with other users such as power boats, canoes, kayaks, jet skis, sailing craft.
Maybe it’s time for a new locale.

Up 19 Down 43

Politico on Apr 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Wonderful, turning prime parkland into parking spaces for commercial operator on the public dime. There is a large lake just south of Whitehorse that has lots of land and places to build docks. Why not there? Fish Lake?

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