The new Cyclone military helicopters to be based at Victoria International Airport should go to CFB Shearwater in Nova Scotia instead — at least until an independent evaluation on noise levels is complete, says a local resident.
An environmental assessment on noise should have been completed, but was never done, said retired provincial judge Ben Casson, who lives on Curteis Point in North Saanich near the airport.
Such an assessment would determine if nine Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones should be delivered to the west coast, Casson said. Cyclones are to be housed in the new $155-million hangar and base for 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron on Victoria Airport Authority land. They were ordered by the federal government to replace six aging Sea King helicopters. The first Cyclones are expected to arrive this month, but no delivery dates have been formally announced.
The Cyclones will be used for surveillance, search and rescue and supplying tactical transport for national and international security efforts.
Casson is meeting with lawyers to petition the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development in the hope it will trigger an assessment. The commissioner’s job includes determining if federal departments meet sustainable development goals and to oversee the environmental petitions process.
A proper assessment requires public meetings — something that has not happened — and a broader consultation, Casson said.
Exercises, particularly when helicopters are hovering, already disturb the community, he said.
Cyclones are “bigger and they are louder,” Casson said. “It’s going to be an around-the-clock operation for sure.”
New helicopters should go first to Shearwater, the centre of naval aviation in Canada, while this matter is examined, Casson said.
He isn’t alone. A group called the Concerned Citizens Against Airport Noise has formed, said member John Kafka, also president of the North Saanich Residents Association.
The organization is in its early stages, but hopes to work with the Department of National Defence about noise issues, he said. This could include considering if simulators could be used to reduce helicopter noise during night time training sessions.
Kafka said “it’s pretty odd” that there was not an assessment of the impact of noise.
What’s needed is a baseline noise monitoring study, he said.
The Tseycum First Nation in North Saanich has written the federal government expressing its “strong disapproval” of the new helicopter facility.
Victoria’s airport was created in 1939 for military use. Today it is a hub for commercial and private traffic, serving 1.6 million passengers annually. More than 120 flights take off daily and the airport authority is continually seeking new carriers.
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finnall said noise from military helicopters, “comes up as a regular issue.”
The municipality and the airport authority do not have control over operations of these helicopters, she said. North Saanich and the residents association take part in airport noise committee meetings.
Finnall is sympathetic to residents, although the noise doesn’t bother her. She has lived near the airport for 40 years and said that some noise is expected.
DND said in a statement that in 2010 it collaborated with the airport authority, consulted local First Nations on the hangar plan, and presented the plan to the City of Victoria.
Cyclones comply with noise requirements for Canada’s civil aviation regulations, the DND said. ‘‘Hence, DND does not anticipate any problems associated with Cyclone noise compared to civilian helicopter operations.
— With a file from the Vancouver Sun