Federal government examines floatplane concerns

Transport Canada, which regulates the Inner Harbour aerodrome, will re-establish a residents’ committee on the topic, with the City of Victoria's participation.

Floatplanes are coming under close srcutiny in the Inner Harbour.

Floatplanes are coming under close srcutiny in the Inner Harbour.

After two years of sitting on recommendations by the City of Victoria, Transport Canada is taking the first step to managing frustrations fueled by noise and pollution generated by floatplanes.

The federal body, which regulates the Inner Harbour aerodrome, will re-establish a residents’ committee on the topic, with the city’s participation.

Coun. Lynn Hunter, the liaison for James Bay, called it “good news.”

“It really does need to have local citizens’ involvement, as much to educate local citizens on the issues as it is for the local citizens to educate the government on the issues,” she said.

In 2009, the James Bay Neighbourhood Association commissioned its own study on noise pollution.

Association president Tim Van Alstine said when Transport Canada moved the floatplane runway away from the Inner Harbour, it shifted noise pollution to new residential pockets in James Bay.

The change was made with no community consultation, he added.

Van Alstine also blames city councils, past and present, for rezoning land for residential development too close to the working harbour.

When a plane takes off, he said, people living nearby can’t maintain a conversation.

These concerns were recently heard by city council.

On Sept. 22, council rezoned a water lot in the Inner Harbour, allowing for a 25-metre extension to an existing floatplane dock.

Some residents worried a longer dock would increase the industry’s capacity to grow. Hunter, however, pointed out the longer dock will replace a number of smaller ones.

It’s the type of concern that could get fleshed out and resolved through the new residents’ committee, whose mandate is better communication.

The dock extension isn’t a done deal yet. Transport Canada must still approve the project.

For now, the federal regulator prioritizes only safety issues when it makes these types of decisions.

In the future, this equation could be broadened to include qualify of life issues, should the new residents’ committee prove effective.

But it’s only a first step.

Better communication is one of four recommendations the city made to then transport minister John Baird in 2009.

The city also asked the federal government to consider installing noise monitoring stations and to study the impact of noise and air emissions.

The city also asked for the feds to establish a maximum number of flights based on more than safety concerns.

This cap should be one  “that will not further aggravate noise and air pollution … for nearby residents,” council said.

In response, council got a letter but no action.

Hunter pressed the issue again last month. With the backing city councillors, she resent the letter, this time to a new Transport Minister Denis Lebel.

Neither Lebel, nor anyone in the Transport department was available for an interview.

In an email to the News, however, spokesperson Rod Nelson said: “Transport Canada has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the extensive and proactive oversight of the Victoria’s water aerodrome, in particular the operational and community impacts associated with harbour operations.”

For the record: In an article published Aug. 31, the News erroneously reported that the city approved rezoning the water lot to allow for the realignment of a float-plane dock for use by Harbour Air and Kenmore Air. In fact, the city approved first and second reading of the motion to rezone.

 

Did you know?

While the number of daily float plane takeoffs  and landings has increased over the decades, they have shrunk in recent years. The industry peaked in 2007, with 43,610. By 2010, the number decreased by more than 10,000.