Fort Smith’s airport runways should be fully resurfaced by 2022, a request for proposals newly issued by the territorial government states.
In May, the community’s airport received $15 million in federal funding for the work. The request for proposals sets out in greater detail how and when that work will be accomplished.
The surfaces of the airport’s runways, taxiways, and apron – where aircraft park and are boarded – have been deteriorating for at least 20 years.
In the NWT government’s assessment, those surfaces are “past their life cycle” and have not been renewed since 1997.
The schedule outlined in the request for proposals suggests work to fix that will be complete by late September 2022.
The territorial government didn’t specify how much of the $15 million – potentially, all of it – will be spent on this project, but past estimates suggest it is expensive work.
In a 2017 report, consultant Tetra Tech proposed a paving budget of almost $8 million over six years. Most of that was to be spent on the airport’s main runway, which the territorial government says exhibits “major cracking.”
The request for proposals does not mention any change to the runway’s current width, a contentious topic in Fort Smith.
The airport’s runway was narrowed from 200 ft to 100 ft in 2019, prompting pushback from community leaders and opposition from Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, who argued that the reduced size affected the town’s evacuation strategy – limiting the size of aircraft able to land and manoeuvre – and would hurt the economy.
The territorial government has said those concerns are unfounded and a narrower size reduces costs – for example, the area to be covered for snow removal or repaving is now smaller – while still offering a serviceable runway that meets federal standards.
In May 2020, then-infrastructure minister Katrina Nokleby did however acknowledge residents and businesses in Fort Smith weren’t given enough information ahead of time about the change.