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Floatplane dock draws debate
Latham Island residents wary of plan; flying enthusiast says it will draw in tourists

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Plans to build a public floatplane base and boat dock on the south side of Latham Island will be on hold a little while longer after city council decided Monday to set aside the controversial scheme for more discussion.

NNSL photo/graphic

NWT Float Plane Association president Hal Logsdon tells city council he is in support of a public dock facility on the south side of Latham Island during Monday's public council meeting. - Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

The floatplane dock was one of five priority items identified by the harbour planning committee that were unveiled during a municipal services committee meeting last week.

The other priorities are: building a marina at either Giant Mine or Mosher Island; getting jurisdiction for the city over Yellowknife and Back bays; obtaining ownership of the government dock in Old Town; and upgrading existing parks, such as Pilot's Monument, the Otto Drive park on Back Bay, and Yellowknife Rotary Waterfront Park.

Council approved these four priorities at a public meeting Monday night but deferred the floatplane dock in the face of opposition from Latham Island residents and confusion over a pair of maps from city administration that appear to show conflicting dimensions for the dock.

"The public need to be better communicated with and we can't proceed with this, this evening because an extra effort needs to be made by the city," said city councillor Shelagh Montgomery.

Penny Johnson, a Morrison Drive homeowner, was one of about a dozen people - most of whom appeared to be in opposition to the dock - who were in the public gallery in council chambers Monday night.

"This would be a misappropriate use of public money and public land to the exclusive benefit for every small and privileged part of the population," she said of the dock.

More floatplane activity on Back Bay would also increase the risk to those piloting smaller crafts like canoes and kayaks who she said will be forced out to rougher, deeper water among the larger power boats and floatplanes. She said she favoured an Adopt-a-Float Plane program which would allow visiting plane owners to be "married up" with a resident who could then show the person around town.

"Rather than just landing on an obscure floatplane dock, have (residents) help (plane tourists) figure out the dynamics of the city and just the city in general," she said, comparing these residents to something like tourism agents.

"Residents who have docks would offer up their docking space throughout the summer for a visiting floatplane."

NWT Float Plane Association president Hal Logsdon told council there is a great potential for tourism revenue coming into town from pilots. However, because there are few places to park their planes, many do not come.

"There are also no public parking areas for visiting aircraft," said Logsdon.

A Back Bay location at Lessard Drive and Otto Drive is the preferred location by the association because it is city property, within a registered aerodrome, and close to tourist amenities.

Louise Dundas-Matthews, another Morrison Drive resident, said while her husband Steve is a private pilot and a member of the floatplane association, she said neighbours had some reservations about the dock. She said it's non-motorized boats that should be encouraged in the area and was worried about parking, security and transfer of liability for servicing floatplanes, and the cost to taxpayers.

"We feel really concerned about comments that we are resisting this for the sake of not in our backyard or trying to protect our space or that public land is our land - nothing could be further from the truth," she said.

"I think we really feel strongly we want to open the area up in a reasonable way to share with the public, but the impact of this magnitude would be very significant and we do feel there are other reasonable solutions."

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said last week that with the summer tourism season approaching, having a multi-use docking area could accommodate tourists better. He said this is an issue that has been discussed in the city for about five years and one that the city would like to see decided soon.

"Currently they have no place to park and we need some access for them because they are fairly big contributors to the economy when they are here, " he said.

A special council meeting will be held at noon Monday to deal with the floatplane dock issue.

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