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Upgraded Innisfail Heliport reopens for air ambulances

Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay says hearing the news about the local heliport is her ‘best day’ as council member
This STARS air ambulance was the first to land at the now operational and upgraded Innisfail Heliport; arriving to serve the town at about 1:20 p.m. on Nov. 24. Photo courtesy of the Town of Innisfail

INNISFAIL – The long wait for the reopening of the upgraded Innisfail Heliport is over.

On Nov. 21, Steven Kennedy, operational services manager for the Town of Innisfail, told town council that verbal approval was received from Transport Canada on Nov. 15 to reopen the heliport for STARS air ambulance operations.

“We were happy to get that news. It was a very quick turnaround from Transport Canada,” said Kennedy. “They had mentioned wanting to come and do another site inspection. But all the paperwork was in order, so they didn't have to come back out to do another inspection.

"We really appreciated that from them, and we’re getting it open a little sooner than even we anticipated. We have coordinated with the hospital, and everything is a go."

The 24-year-old facility was voluntarily closed in mid-2020 by the town in after being deemed non-compliant with numerous Transport Canada guidelines.

The town was given 12 months to determine if the heliport would be improved or reopened, relocated or closed.

For almost the next two and half years the Town of Innisfail moved air ambulance service to Big Bend Airport, just over seven kilometres northwest of town.

In the meantime, there was emotionally charged discussion throughout the community over the facility’s future.

It was ultimately decided by council to upgrade the heliport and keep the facility at its longstanding site near the Innisfail Health Centre.

The news of the heliport’s reopening thrilled Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay, who was arguably the strongest advocate on council to upgrade the heliport at the same location.

“When I heard the heliport was open it was probably the best day I've had as a member of council. I think it's such an important project for the community, and it's going to serve the community so well for many years to come,” said Barclay, who gave the previous town council credit for moving quickly and thoroughly to ensure the heliport’s future in Innisfail.

“We went through all the discussions, the assessment review, and hearing the perspectives of stakeholders. It was a lot of work,” she added. “But in the end this council, based on that work, decided to go ahead and it was important that we did that.

“And I'm just so pleased that it is finally open and operational.”

Kennedy said the town will have a grand opening for the upgraded Innisfail Heliport once proofs are finalized and approved by council for new commemorative plaques at the site, including one for the late Bob Newman; a former president of the Rotary Club of Innisfail who is credited for spearheading the original heliport project in the late 1990s.

The heliport upgrade project had a projected total budget of $641,541, with the construction component costing $489,955.

Last February town council awarded the construction contract to Red Deer’s Timcon Construction Ltd.

Kennedy told the Albertan the heliport upgrade project was completed on time and on budget.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was also pleased to acknowledge that the million-dollar sound wall replacement project on the east side of town along 42 Avenue was completed last month and within budget.

The project involved removing the half mile-long 15-year-old wood sound wall and replacing it with new concrete panels fitted with steel posts. The new sound wall is expected to last 50 years.

“We did do some decibel testing before we took the wall down and then after, and (testing) is subject to what is on the highway at the time,” said Kennedy. “It did look like it had some improvement to the sound deflection from the other side.

“It’s also a more stable wall and it’s aesthetically pleasing. We’re very happy; timing and within the budget,” said Kennedy, adding it was also pleasing for staff to have two major capital projects successfully completed and within budgets.

“I think it was a good compliment for staff here, as well as the contractors that we dealt with. We're very happy with the end results," he said.


Johnnie Bachusky

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