June 28, 2023

Erickson Airport paving project to take off this summer

Jon Robinson

— By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun (Image: Wikipedia)

After a long haul of fundraising, the Erickson Airport’s paving project will soon be under way, making flying in and out of the community safer and more efficient. The Council of the Municipality of Clanwilliam-Erickson, located 80 kilometres north of Brandon, Manitoba, has approved a construction contract with Maple Leaf Construction out of Winnipeg.

The airport is a key transportation hub in the community, which serves residents, businesses and visitors of Clanwilliam-Erickson and the entire region, the municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer Iain Edye says. The airport also facilitates economic growth, tourism and emergency services like the Shock and Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS).

The project was identified as a priority by the municipal council of Clanwilliam-Erickson in 2018, after a pavement condition assessment showed that all paved surfaces were approaching failure, and aircraft were at risk of being damaged.

As the Sun previously reported, the Erickson Flying Club has been doing everything possible to maintain the runway, member Barry Sloane said, but loose stones and cracks have become a safety hazard to landing aircraft. The runway was last paved in the 1980s, Sloane previously told the Sun.

“It’s pretty rough. It’s like driving over a rough road,” he said. “The danger with stones is foreign object damage and propellers [getting] damaged.”

Having a paved surface is much better for aircraft, specifically for takeoff and landing, said Dave Creighton, chief executive officer of the Brandon Flight Centre. Pilots often fly from Brandon to Erickson, he added.

“With a paved surface, you don’t have the possibility of any kind of hills popping up and [affecting] the control you have when you’re in that critical phase of flight,” Creighton said. “If you’re on a gravel runway or anything of that nature, it’s harder on the plane, harder on the propeller.”

The municipality received a grant from the federal-provincial Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) in 2021, totaling 93.3 per cent of an initial project budget of $1,417,565, with the remaining 6.7 per cent to be paid by municipal borrowing. The municipality tendered the project in the fall of 2022, and the low bid was $2.28 million. Without additional funding available, the municipality proposed to reduce costs by shortening the runway and removing the taxiway and apron from the project. Rather than accept the reduced scope, the contractor opted to withdraw their bid, and the municipality was forced to re-tender the project in the winter of 2023, Edye said.

Recently, the federal government informed the municipality that ICIP projects across the country were finding it impossible to proceed in this time of inflation. The Municipality was informed that they could now use the Canada Community Building Fund (CCBF, formerly known as the gas tax fund) to increase the federal contribution above and beyond the amount in the ICIP grant.

The flexibility offered through the federal funding has allowed the municipal council to move ahead with the project even in the “face of adversity,” Clanwilliam-Erickson Mayor Victor Baraniuk said.

“Infrastructure improvements like this are never free, but without being able to use the CCBF money, it would have been completely unaffordable, and that would have meant wasting the once-in-a-lifetime ICIP grant.”