The Yukon government is taking long-awaited steps toward revamping the Dawson City airport.
A press release states the government will begin functional planning this year – with funds to be allocated in the 2016/17 budget.
“Initially, this started out as a request from industry representatives to pave the runway there,” Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent told the Star this morning.
“There was some other potential deficiencies with the way the airport is set up there that we were willing to address .... We’ve broadened the scope to look at the entire airport.”
First, the government will tender a contract to develop a functional plan for the airport.
The cost of creating the functional plan will be included in the spring budget – and subject to legislative approval.
So far, the estimates for the paving project and other infrastructure upgrades have been on the high side.
Former Yukon MP Ryan Leef vowed during the 2015 election campaign that a re-elected Conservative government would invest millions of dollars into the Dawson airport – $30 million in total, with $8 million going toward paving the runway.
The remaining $22 million would go toward other infrastructure improvements to airports, such as relocating or constructing a new terminal in Dawson, or paving the runway in Old Crow.
“We wanted to drill down a little bit and make sure what the numbers are going to be,” Kent said.
“This is going to help us identify costs and make decisions.”
The government press release indicates that public safety is the top priority at this point.
The plan is meant to take into consideration the existing geotechnical knowledge of permafrost under the runway and Transport Canada’s recommendations for runway safety.
“This is the logical next step,” Kent said.
It is also a step that has taken several years to take shape.
An infrastructure needs assessment study of the Dawson airport was published in October 2013.
In 2014, former tourism and culture minister Mike Nixon had put forth a motion in the legislature to strengthen the tourism sector, which included considering the asphalt upgrades at Dawson’s airport.
Klondike MLA Sandy Silver criticized the lack of action on the plan in last spring’s session in legislature.
“A year later, there is no money in the budget to pave the Dawson runway,” Silver said in a statement at the end of session.
“It’s very disappointing to see the runway plans have been put on the back burner even though industry sees potential for market growth.”
Last fall, an Air North representative spoke at the Opportunities North conference in Whitehorse, saying money put toward paving the runway would be money well spent for both the airline and tourism in the territory overall.