Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly says council shouldn’t hesitate to move forward with expanding the Toronto Island airport, despite a staff report that recommends delaying the decision until 2015.
He said if council doesn’t act now, it risks postponing the expansion for at least a decade, pending the results of next year’s municipal election.
“It depends on the makeup of the next administration,” he said. “It may be the very same people that opposed the island airport in the first place. If that’s the case, then I think the city will have lost a marvellous opportunity to grow an asset.”
Porter Airlines has been pushing the city to expand the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport by lengthening the runway and allowing jets to land there. It needs the support of council to move forward, but council’s executive committee, which will meet next Thursday, has received a staff report that recommends holding off on a decision until May, 2015.
“Despite the breadth of consultant studies, there remain outstanding questions,” the report says, pointing to questions about road traffic and a lack of certification from Transport Canada for the jets that Porter says would conform to the airport’s noise restrictions.
Six months ago, city council handed staff the task of determining whether it would be possible to renegotiate the tripartite agreement to allow for the expansion. The deal among the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority dictates the function of the airport. Staff brought in outside consultants to study the impacts on health, the environment, the economy and city infrastructure but were ultimately left with even more questions.
“We have not had enough analysis and enough attention to the issues that have been raised and how they might be mitigated,” John Livey, deputy city manager, said. “If you strip it all away, really the question remains: how big is this airport going to be?”
Mr. Livey said one of the biggest missing pieces of information is a long-term, over-arching plan for the airport from the Port Authority, as well as how to address problems that already exist, like heavy traffic and the effect on a nearby school.
However, the Toronto Port Authority has put out a statement saying it needs council to get behind the proposal before spending more time and money on studies.
“Council needs to decide if the proposal merits approval, before it spends any further TPA funds on all of the necessary elements that would be required regarding the implementation of the concept,” said TPA chairman Mark McQueen in the release.
“What you do is you put all that in your consent. Go ahead as long as you can meet these conditions. So why spend a year or two debating over the data when you can put that into the deal?”
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another executive committee member, said he is a big supporter of Porter, but council needs to make sure they’re doing their due diligence before rushing ahead.
“We need to proceed cautiously. Some of the issues are not small,” he said. “Notwithstanding the electoral calendar, council has to focus on doing the right thing.”
Porter’s chief executive officer Robert Deluce said the report hasn’t shaken the company’s optimism that council will keep pushing forward with the proposal. He said there is enough information on the proposal and on the Bombardier planes for council to make a decision.
“Certain councillors didn’t even want to study the issue in the first place, so there’s no amount of additional time or information that will ever satisfy them.”
But the issue is bigger than Porter, Mr. Livey said. Other airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet, have expressed an interest in the airport’s expansion.
“Opening up the tripartite agreement allows other things to happen,” he said.
That’s what has some councillors and Torontonians so concerned.
“We don’t even know what the future scale of that airport is going to be one day,” said Tim Ehlich, a representative for No Jets TO, a citizen group opposed to the expansion.
“Obviously we need to step on the brakes.”