Residents and businesses in Fort Smith weren’t given enough information ahead of time about changes to the town’s airport, the NWT’s new infrastructure minister says.
Katrina Nokleby wasn’t in charge when the airport’s runway was narrowed last summer, but said on Wednesday the community deserved better advance notice of what was planned.
Local Indigenous groups, the town’s mayor, and Fort Smith-based airline Northwestern Air Lease all complained last year that narrowing the runway could affect the town’s ability to evacuate in an emergency and would negatively impact the economy.
The territorial government has maintained those concerns are unfounded and the narrower runway meets federal standards, while being cheaper and easier to maintain.
In the legislature, Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos called the runway narrowing “an error” and also alleged some newly installed LED lights at the airfield don’t work properly.
“Everybody agrees that Fort Smith was wronged,” Martselos said.
“All of the constituents of Thebacha want to see better and proper improvements made to our airport.
“Our community is long overdue for a new airport terminal, given we have been using the same terminal since 1969.”
Martselos has promised she will keep raising the issue of the airport until the NWT government commits to invest in more upgrades. Nokleby, in response, said work to date had already “addressed the current and future operational needs of the airport.”
“There were no errors made. What I will acknowledge, though, is that it does sound like the engagement was not done properly,” Nokleby said.
“While we engaged with industry and regulatory entities regarding the airport work in Fort Smith to ensure that the runway would continue to be safe and meet federal regulations and maintain a consistent level of service, we did not ensure that the community of Fort Smith understood the project’s purpose and benefits before we completed the work.
“I do commit that the Department of Infrastructure will do better.”