| Nov 30, 2006


Feature Article - November 23, 2006

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Feature Article - November 23, 2006

Ompah helipad to be reconsidered:NorthFrontenac will consider formal agreement with Tomvale airport this week

by Jeff Green

The honeymoon was indeed short for North Frontenac Mayor Ron Maguire this time around.

Just a week and a day after being re-elected, and a full three weeks before his new council is sworn in, he was facing an angry crowd of 125 people at the Ompah hall. The issue at hand was the future of the Ompah Helipad.

The meeting had been called by Barbara Sproule, the former Reeve of Palmerston/Canonto (now Ward 3 of North Frontenac). At the start of the meeting, Barbara Sproule explained some of the history of the helipad.

It was built by the Ompah Snowmobile club, using volunteer labour, and maintained by the club for many years. “The community built the helipad, that’s why we are so attached to it,” she said.

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When the snowmobile club disbanded, the helipad was turned over to the township, and the township has invested in maintenance, putting up a fence and upgrading the site. Problems surfaced a little over a year ago, when representatives from the Air ambulance service contacted the township to inform them that helicopter pilots no longer wanted to use the helipad at night because the view of the reflective material on the pad was obstructed by trees on a neighbouring property.

The township entered into negotiations with the neighbour in question, who eventually produced an estimate of the value of trees that were involved - $364,000. Alternatively, he offered to accept a payment of $35,000 plus $600 per month.

Council was loath to accept this proposal. An alternate site, which has been used for helicopter landings on an ad hoc basis, the Tomvale Airport on Hwy. 506 near Fernleigh, was proposed, and at a meeting scheduled for this Thursday, Council is poised to give Mayor Maguire the go-ahead to complete an agreement with Tomvale Airport for helipad services. The agreement will entail the township providing some cold patch for the private road into the landing pad, and snow clearing as well, at a cost of approximately $10,000 per year.

At the meeting, incoming councilor Jim Beam reported that he has contacted Martin Boucher, from Canadian Helicopter Services, who told him that if an alternate approach to the Ompah helipad is found, the helicopters that are dispatched will be able to land at Ompah, even at night.

... “If that approach respects the numbers for our nights criteria ... the municipality can at their wish change that approach,” Boucher wrote in an email to the township on Tuesday morning.

“That is not the information that we previously received from Canadian Helicopters” said Councillor Fred Perry, who was in attendance. “The guy who talked to us before, a Mr. Pascale, said nothing about alternate approaches to the helipad. He only said the trees had to be removed.”

“Mr. Boucher is Mr. Pascale’s boss,” said Beam.

“Before we can do anything about the Ompah helipad, we need Mr. Boucher to meet with members of council at the helipad; we need assurances that what we come up with be acceptable and the helicopters pilots will agree to land at night. Otherwise, we can’t do anything,” said Perry.

Several members of the boisterous audience spoke passionately about the necessity of maintaining helipad services at Ompah, noting the distance between Ompah and the Tomvale airport.

“I think it’s a great thing to put a helipad at Fernleigh or Plevna, but we don’t want to lose ours,” said Barbara Sproule

Barbara Sproule then asked Mayor Maguire, “Are you planning to pass a bylaw on Thursday to close the Ompah helipad, or will that be left to the new council?”

Maguire responded by saying the Ompah helipad will not be closed this week, and further, “The new council can set up a task force to try and solve the problem at Ompah.”

“Will you promise not to make an agreement over Tomvale?” asked an audience member.

“The two matters are not related,” Maguire replied. “We need to ensure a safe landing spot for night helicopters in North Frontenac, and we will be looking at an agreement with Tomvale Airport this week. If the new council can come up with a workable proposal for night landing at Ompah, we will consider that when the time comes.”

So, the new North Frontenac Council, which will be sworn in on December 14th, already has a pressing issue to deal with.

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