I was obviously happy with the decision Edmonton City Council made about the downtown airport. And even though I didn’t receive a response to my letter from both of my city representatives at the time (only an acknowledgment from Councillor Jane Batty), I received a lengthy and well-thought-out justification for the decision from Ben Henderson, Ward 4 councillor today. Here are Councillor Henderson’s thoughts on how he personally came to vote the way he did:
To all of you who wrote me during the airport debate I wanted to take this opportunity to get back to you and explain the choice that I made. I apologize for the group email but there were just far too many emails to respond individually.
I also apologize that I was not able to respond to you at the time but we were so deluged with correspondence arguing passionately both for and against that I could not respond at the time. I was able to read all of your emails as they came in and your arguments weighed heavily in my decision making, but I must apologize that I was not able to respond until now.
I know many of you are pleased with the decision made and many are deeply disappointed. I can assure you that none of us took the decision lightly. I for one am fully aware of the magnitude of the decision and spent a great deal of time researching the issue before coming to my conclusion.
The one thing I felt was most important was that I made my decision based on the long term future of the city and not on a short term window. To this end I wanted to get a clear sense of what the likely future was for aviation. I was lucky that during the recent ICLEI conference on future city sustainability we had transportation experts from across the world in the City and I took the opportunity to bend their ears on the subject. Their response was unanimous, the future for short haul, small aircraft flights such as could be served by the muni is not good. Transportation in fact is likely to move in the opposite direction.
The worst case scenario for me was always that we would continue to be indecisive on this issue. Many thought after the vote in 1995 that the issue was decided once and for all, but it seemed to come back every three years with arguments to reverse the decision to move all scheduled flights to the international. Every time it was re-debated it made it harder and harder for the airport to plan for any kind of future and for the businesses that were there to have any kind of certainty. At minimum I knew that whatever decision we made had to be clear.
It was also important, with the number of large decisions coming in the near future such as NAIT and the LRT, that we not make one decision today and then make a different decision three to five years from now.
I know many of you will disagree with me, but I have come to believe that for the long term future, a downtown airport is not the best use of that land. I suspect it would be used by fewer and fewer Edmontonians and ultimately would become a very expensive private airport. It was time to make a decision.
In so doing I also felt that two other things were critical. That if we were to develop the land it should be done by the City with an eye to coming up with a quality new district rather than an eye to just making a quick buck off the land. The fact that the City is the land owner and can plan and manage how it develops gives us the opportunity to do something truly remarkable. This has been guaranteed in the motion that was passed.
I also feel strongly that we must make an extra effort to preserve and honour the history of the airport on the site. I realize that we will not be able to do this in connection with a useable landing strip, but there are many other things that can and must be done to honour the many whose histories are embodied in that airport. I promise that I will fight hard to make sure that that history is recognized, supported and honoured.
And finally, although I had some hesitation with the motion to do it as a staged closure, for a number of reasons it is the best way to go. No future use of the airport will happen overnight, and there is no need to deprive those currently using the airport of its use until such time as there is a need to do so. That could be many years off before there is a complete closure. In the meantime the airport will be available to all who are currently using its runways. It also mitigates the negative effect on the businesses that have called the airport home by giving them more time to respond to the future.
This encapsulates my thinking on this issue. I know many of you agree and many of you disagree. It has certainly been the hardest decision I have been faced with while on Council. It is always scary to have to cast a vote like this because I am always aware that despite all the research done I may be wrong. The future cannot be perfectly predicted. But I felt the most important thing was to make a clear decision and I have done so with some strong belief that the right decision has been made.
Thank you again for your letters and emails.
Again, I was satisfied with the decision, and I’m glad to see that it wasn’t one that was taken lightly. Thanks for responding to my letter, Councillor Henderson
A further note: Councillor Henderson has informed me that he’s in the process of creating his own blog. I’ll write and tweet about that as soon as he says it’s up.