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‘Temporary’ Vancouver float-plane terminal wants to stay longer

Passengers disembark a Harbour Air floatplane in Vancouver's Coal Harbour June 3, 2010.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The operator of a "temporary" float-plane terminal that's been on Vancouver's downtown waterfront since 2004 has applied to keep it there a while longer, but has offered to move its buildings away from a city-owned seawall as part of the agreement.

Vancouver-based Harbour Air, which operates the temporary facility, has filed a development application with the city, and plans are expected to be discussed at a council meeting in July.

For the city, which has long wanted to reclaim the part of the seawall now partly obstructed by the terminal's buildings, the proposal would provide a way to meet that goal even as a court dispute over operations at a new $21-million terminal nearby is unresolved.

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"We have been very anxious to get that portion of the seawall fully completed," Vicki Potter, director of development services with the City of Vancouver, said on Thursday. "And there's a window of opportunity ... it proposes to scoot things off the seawall so at least that connection can be finished."

Harbour Air's existing permit was to expire in September. The company moved to the site in 2004, when it was squeezed from its former base by an expansion of the waterfront convention centre. City and provincial development plans called for float-plane operations to move back to the expanded convention centre when it was finished and a new terminal built. Since then, Harbour Air has asked for, and received, two extensions of its permit.

As it turned out, the new terminal – the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, a $22-million project built by the Clarke and Ledcor groups of companies – didn't open until May, 2011. And Harbour Air – by far the biggest float-plane operator in the province – refused to move in, citing what it said were excessively high rental fees, and safety concerns.

VHFC has consistently rejected those concerns, maintaining that its facility is safe. A provincial review commissioned last year has not been released.

After months of negotiations failed to resolve the impasse, VHFC in March went to court, filing a lawsuit against Harbour Air and its principals as well as B.C. Pavilion Corp., the Crown corporation that runs the convention centre. That dispute remains before the court.

In a rationale filed with its application, Harbour Air says it is not able to move to the new terminal because of concerns relating to design and safety, and because it had not reached a lease agreement.

"Harbour Air … is of the view that the new floats have not been properly designed, such that there is a risk of damage to aircraft under certain wave/wind conditions," the document states. "A detailed engineering and safety study is under way, with the aim of confirming whether there is a problem and, if so, recommending a design solution."

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Negotiations between the two parties about a lease have been ongoing, but "are not complete, in part because of the dock design problem," according to the document.

VHFC has said it is losing $250,000 a month at its facility. Since float-plane operations moved to Coal Harbour in 2004, some area residents have complained of noise from the facility and objected to the city's granting repeated extensions to the operation.

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