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.