With respect to vision and governance, the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport (NCDRA), a.k.a. Pelham’s aerodrome along River Road, is a bit of a mess. The users of the airport are clearly unhappy (as previously reported in these pages, and as evidenced by a strongly worded letter to the editor this week). The commission which provides this messy governance continuously meets in closed session, with almost no dialogue or open debate for the taxpaying public to scrutinize. Just check the minutes (if you can find them). For a bunch of councillors across south Niagara who campaigned on being transparent four years ago, this is either hypocrisy, a disgrace, or both.
Are we being harsh? Consider the following:
The NCDRA Commission—whose members are municipal councillors from Welland, Wainfleet, Port Colborne, and Pelham— has obtained a $600,000 loan from the City of Welland for the express purpose of building and renting new hangars. Whether that’s a good idea or not can be debated. What cannot be debated is that this has not been widely made known to the public.
Is the airport proceeding with construction in light of recent inflation? Has inflation changed the number of hangers that can be built? We have no idea, because we cannot get the Town’s airport representative—Lisa Haun—to answer questions, and the Commission’s minutes are opaque at best.
Bear in mind, as noted above, Pelham is one of four municipalities that are financially responsible for the airport, including being responsible for its debts. That’s all of us on the hook for that $600,000.
When representatives of the NCDRA Commission did manage to provide information to Pelham Town Council, they did so, at Councillor Haun’s insistence, in what turned out to be in violation of the law. The meeting was improperly held in closed session in April 2021. The Ombudsman of Ontario recently ruled that it was a violation of the Municipal Act to have done so. In almost four years of governance, this is the first and only time that this Pelham council has improperly gone into closed session, and not coincidentally they were led into it by Haun and the secretive NCDRA Commission.
Why the Commission keeps relying upon municipal staff at the City of Welland, rather than Pelham’s staff, also deserves to be asked. Certainly the comments from the Welland councillors on the Commission, which may be heard in the meeting’s audio recording on the Town’s website, give cause for concern. Their assurances that Welland could provide water and sewer service to the airport should be alarming. First, there is the outlandish proposal that some airport land could be developed for housing, in clear opposition to various environmental and planning rules, as identified by Pelham’s CAO in this same meeting. Second, there is the ongoing, inexorable desire by Welland to expand its borders—to the point that annexation may no longer be the stuff of mere conspiracy theories and April Fools humour.
This newspaper would like to see better—far, far better— representation for the Town on the NCDRA Commission. Expecting Haun to turn her duties over to another Pelham councillor immediately is a fantasy too far. The voters will need to force this exit in October.
Yet whether or not Haun remains in the picture, more discussions in the public eye would be helpful. Answers to questions would helpful. Making the business case public for a $600,000 loan on the sketchiest of premises would be helpful.
Why not involve Pelham’s finance staff? The Town has an award-winning financial team. It has now won awards twice in two years for financial transparency, which seems to be exactly what the NCDRA Commission needs. It’s inexplicable—given that the airport sits entirely on Pelham land—that our staff have no role.
Our community—and each of the other three municipalities involved— deserves better. Let’s not take on debt, more-or-less in secret, let’s be clear about the airport’s future, and let’s not give Welland any further fuel for its territorial ambitions.