— By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca
It was unanimously approved that 61.4 acres of lands at the airport CYEE, known as the Huronia Airport in Tiny Township, would be approved for sale to support the airport’s capital needs. A joint meeting of three partnering North Simcoe municipalities – Midland, Penetanguishene, and Tiny Township – attended a hybrid presentation by the Huronia Airport Commission (HAC), followed by the three breaking off into their own special committees of the whole to discuss what they’d heard.
Within the partnership, Midland owns 50 per cent of the Huronia Airport with Penetanguishene owning 28 per cent and Tiny owning 22 per cent. As part of the agreement, all municipalities must be in agreement for decisions made to its operation. Roy Ellis, who’s the Huronia Airport Task Force’s outgoing chair, presented the information in person at the Midland chambers while the other joint partners joined virtually.
The airport is host to 350 acres of land in Tiny, servicing North Simcoe through emergency services, public and private business, flight training, and many other means. The 61.4 acres of land is located on the east side of the property adjacent to the 4,000-foot north-south runway.
“We actually have a letter of intent from a future investor who last fall – we (the HAC) have the ability and authority to lease land – we offered them a lease of six of those 7.6 acres,” said Ellis.
“I really appreciate… that in short order you were able to convene this meeting, because they were timed out on this. They’re doing operations already in Sudbury, they have got a base there. You’ve probably heard of the organization – we call it Geopark but it’s really the Ring of Fire, and it’s that whole electrification plate, minerals, et cetera. The principal owns about 62 per cent of the rights in the north for that whole plate, for that whole category,” Ellis explained.
The need for joint approval on the request was due to a deadline at the end of March, 2023. Other leads to establish businesses include a flight school, an aircraft mechanic, general aviation hangars, relocation of an HVAC business from the GTA, and others. “This is about selling land and putting a shovel in the ground – quickly,” added Ellis.
After the presentation and joint discussion, the municipalities separated. Members of the Penetanguishene committee of the whole swiftly approved the request within minutes and without further discussion.
Tiny Township committee of the whole members supported the HAC request with some concerns. Coun. Steffen Walma drilled down to ensure that as the municipality where CYEE is physically located, tax revenue sharing would come directly to Tiny Township and not to the other joint partners; this was confirmed by CAO Robert Lamb. “(If sold), they’re our lands; they’re no longer in the hands of the commission,” said Lamb. “They are within the Township of Tiny, and all the revenue associated would come to ourselves, the County of Simcoe, and the school board.
“Just to be clear,” Lamb reiterated, “none of the municipalities have the ability, if that land is sold, to come and ask for a percentage of that revenue. That is ultimately your – elected council for Tiny’s – decision, not anybody else. They can’t come and demand anything that’s our taxation base.”
Tiny Mayor David Evans called the proposal an investment to be managed: “This airport’s been here since 1965 and nobody’s thought to make a change until now, and I’m kind of proud we did.” Tiny Township approved the request in roughly ten minutes.
Midland, however, had things to say. At their meeting, nearly half an hour was spent addressing concerns, with Coun. Bill Meridis and Beth Prost requesting an option to reduce the sale land from 61.4 acres to roughly 20 acres as a way to see how it would impact taxpayers. Acting CAO Andy Campbell responded to the concerns by alluding to the recent withdrawal of a development company from Midland Bay Landing as a cautionary path for Midland council to be wary of retreading. “The goal here is to give the airport commission the ability to raise money to reduce property tax,” said Campbell. “I question: why would you give them less of an opportunity to raise money by reducing the opportunity to sell land?”
Mayor Bill Gordon sympathized with council members who were told that to propose a change to the HAC request would be to risk a “scuttle of the whole deal.” “I know this feels like the snowblower again,” said Gordon, referring to a forced agreement during budgets for a previously-purchased machine which caught the joint municipalities off guard. “This isn’t really a debatable thing about ‘we give them this but not that’; this is the ask that’s before us, all three partners. And that’s part of the joy of having a partnership that we can’t all go off on our own way. We need to sing together on the same sheet, in the same key and same cadence and make sure we’re singing the same verse, which feels limiting and frustrating. I get that.”
Gordon requested a recorded vote “in spirit” of Coun. Jim Downer who was unable to attend, and the motion was passed 6-2 with Meridis and Prost in opposition. All three municipalities carried their motions to approve of the joint land sale during their special committee of the whole meetings, to appear on their upcoming individual regular council meetings for formal ratification.
The 26-page report with slideshow presentation and Huronia Airport Commission request is available on the special meeting of council page on the Town of Midland website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.
(Photo: Huronia Airport)