/Dailloux pitches sale of Stanhope Airport
Algonquin Highlands councillors discuss the Stanhope Airport during a Sept. 3 meeting. /CHAD INGRAM Staff

Dailloux pitches sale of Stanhope Airport

By Chad Ingram   During a Sept. 3 meeting of Algonquin Highlands council, Councillor Jennifer Dailloux suggested the township consider selling the Stanhope Airport, or closing it, or ceding it to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.   Council was discussing the airport, and the section of the property long-proposed to be developed into a business park, as part of a series of conversations about the municipality’s strategic priorities.   “On the airport proper … I sort of see the industrial park as being a sort of independent, strategic question from the daily operation of the airport and, this probably won’t come as a surprise to any of you, because I have made these references in previous council meetings, I would like to encourage council to consider again, whether owning and maintaining an airport is in fact in the best interest of the taxpayers of Algonquin Highlands,” said Dailloux, councillor for Ward 3, the area around and including Oxtongue Lake.
Dailloux questioned whether the continued operation of the airport, serving a small number of people, was a worthwhile investment for taxpayers.
“For me, there are two types of return on investment for public money,” she said. “ … For me, the simplest way of thinking about it is, there’s a return on investment in terms of public service, so what we’re offering, what we’re spending money on, is providing a good public service to a good chunk of the folks who are paying into that public pot. And the second return on investment would be revenues basis. So, another municipal airport . . . there are not many municipal airports that are in the black at the end of year, but in order to satisfy the decision to keep it, I would like to have thought that either it brings in revenue, for public coffers, or it serves a very specific public service purpose, and I don’t think that our airport does.”   “I appreciate there are a lot of people who use it,” Dailloux continued. “I’m not sure how many of the people who use it are taxpaying residents of Algonquin Highlands, or cottagers of Algonquin Highlands, or even the county, for that matter.”   Dailloux pointed out the township has been putting away between $160,000 and $200,000 per year for the past few years into reserves for the development of the airport, and that more than $700,000 currently sits in that reserve account.
“We’re also operating at a loss of about $100,000 or more per year, or more over the last few years, of just the sheer maintenance and running of the airport,” she said. “And, I just don’t see how we can justify that, when so few Algonquin Highlands residents can make any use of that service at all.”   “So I would like to suggest that we consider all of the possible futures for the airport, including selling it, giving it to MNRF, closing it, whatever it might be, but not keeping it as a liability for our taxpayers,” Dailloux said.   There was little uptake on the idea from the rest of council. “I hear loud and clear every word and where your thoughts come from, not that this is going to serve as any panacea, but $100,000 is way better than it used to be,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. “So I think, one of my concerns is … I have always believed there is a lot more that can be happening there, that just doesn’t, no pun intended, doesn’t get off the ground.”
“I think there needs to be more effort into exploring what those things are, including, up-to-date data that we can rely on to make some decisions, because we are relying on some outdated reports,” Moffatt said   The last marketing study completed on the viability of a business park at the airport was done in 2013.   “I believe that as much effort as we’ve put in over the many, many years, I don’t believe that the best effort has been put in, for a variety of reasons,” Moffatt said. “ . . . Everything is worthy of discussion, although I can’t say I would ever support closing the airport, but there’s lots of good conversation here to be continued.”   “It’s been unfortunate because we’ve acknowledged the need for marketing, for going out to other airports, for seeking opportunities and our airport managers have been tasked with that,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. “And it’s really unfortunate that we have had some bad luck with our airport managers that, you know, for one reason or another, they have not been able to take that on, and it’s allowed things to kind of slow down or slump and, you know, I think we need some rejuvenation there.”
The township is now on its third airport manager since former manager Cam Loucks resigned in summer of 2018 to take a position elsewhere, recently hiring Steve Dewey for the job.   “MNRF would no more ever take our airport than fly to the moon,” Danielsen continued. “To get rid of the airport after all of the work and investment that’s gone into it, the input that we’ve had from so many of the public into this. But you used the argument about not making money. You tell me which one of our recreational facilities – some of our recreation programs make money – but, you know, we’ve got community halls that don’t make any money … they just cost us money. There are all kinds of municipal services that do not give us a return on our investment, and yet they’re services that our public want, and they’re part of what we offer.”   “The airport is unique, there’s no question about that, and it’s a big one,” Danielsen said. “So I can see that it’s a challenge to someone who’s coming into it fresh. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing to have some fresh thoughts and ideas.”
This is Dailloux’s first term on council, Danielsen’s third.   “I struggle with where we’re at it with it, I just want to see it go in a positive direction somehow,” said Councillor Julia Shortreed, noting her father-in-law is a pilot and former Ward 1 councillor Don Shortreed.   Dailloux said she understood that most recreation facilities operate at a loss.
“The difference between recreation facilities like the Dorset Rec Centre, or [the Oxtongue Community Centre] or Stanhope [Firefighters’ Community Hall], is that they’re actually built for public use,” Dailloux said. “They’re built for everybody, no matter who they are, no matter what age they are, whether they own an airplane or not, to come in and to use the space, or come up with new ideas so that the space can be used more often. The airport is not that beast . . . It doesn’t have the potential of serving the public the way that a community centre does.”     “The options for growth without putting a massive amount of money in are very, very limited,” Dailloux continued, “and I would much prefer to see that $600,000 or $700,000 that we’ve got in reserves right now, go into our docks and landings reserve. I would much prefer because docks and landing has a real central part of our lives and our lifestyle here in cottage country, or towards North Shore Road, or towards any number of things that are core priorities for the greater number of people at the most reasonable cost.”   Moffatt noted that just because money has been set aside in the airport development reserve, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be moved elsewhere for other purposes.
“I know how hard I worked to get the MNR there and to make that $13-million investment,” Moffatt said of the MNRF base located the airport, which opened in 2016.
During the 2010-2014 council term, Moffatt was able to have Building Canada Fund money that had been approved for an unpopular runway project advocated the previous council redirected to the MNRF project. Moffatt, as Ward 2 councillor, had been the lone member of the 2006-10 council to oppose the runway project, becoming mayor (the title was reeve at the time) in the 2010 election.   “It was a tremendous amount of work, and I would hate to see all that go by the wayside,” Moffatt said. “I know full well, I can hear the letters being written now, people saying, that Jen Dailloux, way to go, and other people saying, that Jen Dailloux, that’s awful, and the public certainly has a lot to say about the airport, and always has,” Moffatt said.