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Village and tenants in feud over significant rate spike at Beiseker airport

A dispute over the future of the Beiseker Airport may be set to blow sky high, as a group of current tenants at the local airfield intend to challenge a recent 240 per cent rent increase from the Village.
Beiseker Airport tenants Harv Wregget (left) and Ian Flanagan head group which is challenging recent 240 per cent annual rent increase from Village of Beiseker.

A dispute over the future of the Beiseker Airport may be set to blow sky high, as a group of current tenants at the local airfield intend to challenge a recent 240 per cent rent increase from the Village.

A group of 10 leasees at the Beiseker Airport have engaged a lawyer to challenge the Village’s decision to charge current lease holders $1,500 per lot in 2023, up from $620 in 2022. The group is claiming the increase is “illegal” and “unjustified.”

“That’s a 240 per cent increase, and it is contrary to the terms of our lease agreement,” said Harv Wregget, one of the 10 leasees challenging the Village’s decision. “It’s flat-out illegal. According to our lease agreement, they can’t do this. 

“And if they get away with it, what happens next year or the year after that? So we have to stop it now.”

Wregget points to a line in the current lease agreement with the Village that states, “the parties agree that the annual rent shall be adjusted yearly to reflect a market rate of similar leases.”

He said a quick comparison of yearly lease rates from 18 other airports of similar size and service levels in Alberta shows an average of $393 per year. At nearby Drumheller’s airport, the lease rate is only $288.75 per year per lot, while Lacombe’s is $375, and Innisfail’s is $560. The highest rate leasees pay in Alberta is in High River, at $1,032 per year. 

However, Wregget argued High Riverites get what they pay for.

“Winter maintenance, instrument approaches for aircraft – they have got it all,” he said. “Beiseker has nothing but access to paved taxiways; that’s it.”

Wregget said by any measure or standard he is aware of, the $1,500 the Village of Beiseker wishes to charge is way beyond the market rate.

But it goes deeper than that, explained Ian Flanagan, another member of the local group protesting the rate increase. Flanagan is the largest single lease holder at the airport, paying for 22 of the available 50 leases to support his skydiving business and other aviation-related ventures. 

Flanagan feels the Village has not provided value for money during its time running the airport, which it took over from the Province of Alberta in a $1 transaction in 2010. He argued the municipality does not maintain the airport as it is supposed to, under the conditions and terms it agreed to with the Province.

He also claimed the Village has not put any funding into maintaining the runways and taxiways, allowing a major infrastructure deficit to build up over time.

“Our complaint is they are not running the airport,” Flanagan argued. “They are deprecating the value of our infrastructure at the airport by not maintaining, in particular, the runway. They got the airport for free and have spent essentially nothing on the runway maintenance.” 

“We believe the Village is cash poor,” added Wregget. “They had that flood a couple of years ago...I think they are cash poor and this is an opportunity to get more cash out of the tenants at the airport.”

Wregget was referring to an interview Beiseker Mayor Warren Wise did with the Rocky View Weekly in early 2023, in which he spoke about the challenges facing the Village coming into the new year. 

In the same interview, Wise criticized current tenants of the airport for being unable to come together and agree on what should be done with the airport moving forward.

“The problem we have is, in a village of 800 people, we don’t have the administration and the know-how to properly run an airport,” Wise stated at the time. “Unfortunately, there are some factions out there that are at odds with each other, and we have been trying to facilitate it so that it would work better for everybody. So far, we haven’t had any real luck with it. And, quite frankly, in the long run, if we don’t see some improvement out there we have thought about just selling it, and getting it off our books.

“It’s not a huge moneymaker for the Village at all,” the mayor added, “and it is a bit of a headache.”

The Rocky View Weekly did reach out to Mayor Wise to ask for a response on the current concerns of Wregget, Flanagan, and others about the rent increase at the local airport, but he declined to comment at this time.

Flanagan said, as the largest leaseholder at the airport, he had reached out to the Village to make an offer to buy the facility when Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver gave permission for the community to sell it in September 2021. Flanagan said if the Village no longer wants responsibility for the airport, they should either sell it to someone who was willing to buy it and invest in its infrastructure, or subdivide it and allow individual tenants to purchase the titles to their own lots and keep direct control only over the communal assets.

The Village initially intended to sell the airport, even announcing it on their Facebook page in the fall of 2021. But the decision was reversed following a council meeting in January 2022, when councillors approved a motion to postpone the amenity's sale for at least five years.

Flanagan acknowledged his bid to privatize the airfield was not a popular position among some of the tenants at the airport who would like the Village to keep it under municipal control, and thereby continue to have access to grants from the provincial government’s Community Airports Program.

It does not help, he said, that the airport's former Beiseker Airport Society had been officially dissolved as a society by the Government of Alberta in December 2021. Yet some former members from that group have continued to try to negotiate management agreements with the Village in spite of no longer having authority or legal standing to speak for all members at the airport.

“The difficulty we’ve had is the couple of people who called themselves the Airport Society and the Village have not communicated with anyone what they were talking about," Flanagan claimed. “There is nothing for the Village to contract with.”

It is this disagreement between factions among the airport’s 27 tenants which has led to, in his words, “the total dysfunction of the airport.”

But, he felt, the sale of the amenity might be the only way forward if the Beiseker Airport is to survive – instead of allowing the airport’s assets to continue to depreciate.

“They (the Village) are very indecisive about what their plans for the airport are,” he said. “It makes it very difficult to plan or increase business out at the airport when you don’t know what the Village is going to do.”

In the short term, Flanagan said, if the Village insists on going forward with the proposed 240 per cent 2023 rent increase, it could end up with a costly legal fight on its hands. He proposed taking it to binding arbitration instead if they insist on moving forward.

Wregget agreed, adding the group’s lawyer has written to the Village.

“The next Village council meeting is Monday (Feb. 13),” he said. “They will consider the proposal our lawyer has given them. And it will go from there.”

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