Risk of building new Sidney fire hall close to airport runway, 'as low as reasonably possible'

(Update: Corrected community safety building borrowing and cost estimates.)

The risk of building a new fire hall close to an active airport is "as low as reasonably possible," according to an assessment done for the Town of Sidney.

The municipality hired consulting firm Tetra Tech Canada Inc. earlier this year to analyze the hazards of building their proposed community safety building near the take-off and approach area of the Victoria International Airport's main runway.

In their report to the municipality dated Jan. 23, 2017, the firm completed a Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment process. They determined that existing aircraft operation procedures and existing controls by the airport help mitigate risk.

In their conclusion, Tetra Tech stated that the construction of the community safety building "relative to aviation operations at the Victoria International Airport are as low as reasonably possible."

Town of Sidney Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said the municipality asked for the study prior to a series of emails sent by local opponents of construction under the airport's main runway approach. Those emails came after a February 21, 2017 plane crash at Essendon Airport in Melbourne, Australia which killed five people traveling in the small aircraft. Some opponents said that incident looked like what could happen here, if either the fire hall building or a proposed commercial development (Sidney Crossing) proceed.

Humble said council will review the report Monday night at a regular meeting. Copies of the report are available on the Town's website. The work was done, he continued, to coincide with the possible approval of a land rezoning request to Transport Canada. That was necessary for the community safety building project to proceed.

Humble said Transport Canada's approval was given to the rezoning on March 6. And at the same time, the Victoria Airport Authority gave their nod to a development permit application. All that's left before ground can be broken on the new fire hall building, Humble said, is the VAA's okay to Sidney's building permit application. That is in the VAA's hands right now, he said, and covers only foundation work on the site.  A portion of the site being used for the project is held by the airport authority, giving them a jurisdictional role.

Council on Monday night will be asked to review the work done thus far and to confirm to the VAA that Sidney intends on leasing the land in question for a term of 61.25 years.

Humble said Sidney has hired management firm Kinetic Construction to lead the project. Staff are discussing a phased construction plan between the community safety building and a proposed employee parking lot, both located south of the Mary Winspear Centre.

The first phase, or foundation work, of the community safety building could begin as early as this spring, as the municipality already has its funding in place.

Sidney council voted last year to access borrowing of up to $10 million for the project — its estimated final price tag. The Town hopes to only borrow approximately $6.3 million, covering the remainder of the cost with the sale of the current fire hall site ($2 million), BC Ambulance Service lease payments ($1.2m) and Gax Tax funds ($500,000).

The new structure will house the fire department and local B.C. Ambulance Service.

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