News
Mark Rendell

On the Waterfront: To Floatplane or Not

Who gets to access the docks in Old Town's minuscule Hank Koenen Park?

Airplane propellers spinning at full bore don’t mix well with sailboats or paddleboarders. That much should be pretty obvious. But how unsafe would it be to let the occasional visiting floatplane dock at the new City park on Wiley Rd. between the Wildcat and Bullocks?

The long-standing debate over which vehicles should be allowed to use the forthcoming docks in tiny waterfront Hank Koenen Park – non-motorized vessels only, motorized vessels, floatplanes – was back at City Hall during Monday’s Municipal Services Committee Meeting. Council will vote on the issue next Monday.

City administration is recommending that the park, which is currently under construction, be open to only non-motorized vessels, citing surveys where around 60 percent of people opposed both floatplane and motorized vessel usage. Their key concern is safety. As Evan Wall, commodore of Great Slave Yacht Club, which is adjacent to the park and has a refuelling station nearby, puts it: “This area is at best 100 feet wide… [and] maneuvering a boat, let alone a large boat, in tight quarters, can be challenging. If we add to that scenario paddleboards, canoes, kayaks... [we’ll] see how quickly this narrow space becomes congested, still manageable, but congested. Adding floatplanes and swinging propellers in this already congested area has the potential to turn an already difficult situation into a dangerous one very quickly.”

Three other speakers at the meeting, however, argued that both admin and the Yacht Club were, in the words of Ray Decorby, “really playing the safety card here.”

“This is not a landing area or a water skiing area, this is a docking area where everybody is moving slow,” said Decorby. “I would say [admin’s warning about potential collisions] is a bit of alarmism… an abuse of the safety card.”

Hal Logsdon, president of the NWT Floatplane Association, was quick to point out that only visiting floatplanes would use the dock, and only occasionally. The City’s public survey, however, obscured this fact with a picture implying planes would be parked permanently, which could have skewed public opinion against the idea, he argued.   

As it stands, there are no public docks for visiting planes to tie up at, which, Logsdon argued, dissuades would-be floatplane tourists from flying into town.

“It’s really difficult for a visitor when they see there’s no place to park the airplane to even contemplate planning a trip here. It’s kind of like the field of dreams. If you build it they might come. If you don’t, they certainly won’t.”

Of the five councillors at the meeting, only Coun Julian Morse and Coun. Niels Konge expressed opinions on the issue. Konge was against admin’s recommendation: “if we’re going to spend money on future park development, we certainly need to be inclusive in our parks.”

Morse argued in favour of opening the docks to motorized vessels, but against floatplane usage, saying the City should aim for a more comprehensive solution to floatplane moorage.

“It would be a bit of a mistake to try and solve all the waterfront needs with this one park,” he said. “The problem with doing that is you end up taking a piecemeal approach to solving problems and creating space for two planes, I don’t think that’s enough.”

Administration is currently developing new city-wide licensing rules for floatplane docks which will be brought to council in the next month. The City also recently leased a strip of land along the McMeekan Causeway from the GNWT, which could potentially provide space for visiting floatplanes if Council follows admin’s direction and keeps floatplanes out of their new park.