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The voice of the northeast will be heard.

Transportation and economic development officials in northeastern Ontario are guardedly optimistic that Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto will remain open to aircraft from the region.

What has given the officials added hope is that the federal panel holding environmental hearings concerning a proposed expansion of the Toronto airport will come to Sudbury on Dec. 11. The northeastern Ontario hearing was requested by the mayors of Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins.

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel," responds Jim Hanson, manager, sales and service for Air Ontario in Sudbury. "It's a good sign that the hearings are coming here."

"It's a positive sign," adds North Bay economic development officer Rick Evans. "It shows they were listening."

Officials in the northeast are concerned that the region could lose direct access to Pearson if the panel rules against the expansion.

Residents' groups formed in Mississauga, Brampton and Etobicoke to oppose the expansion because of noise have recommended to the panel that the congestion at Pearson be relieved by rerouting regional flights to either Toronto's Buttonville Airport or Hamilton's Mount Hope Airport.

Economic development officials in the northeast view this alternative as a threat to the region's economic development.

"The opponents sat down and asked 'How is the best way to reduce the numbers?' and came up with this. But it's not really an option at all. It's like saying let's ban cars with rubber wheels from downtown Sudbury because of the congestion," says Hanson.

"It will just kill us," adds Frank Hess, general manager of the Sudbury Regional Development Corporation (SRDC).

Gilles Pouliot, the provincial Transportation Minister and MPP for Lake Nipigon, agrees that direct access to Pearson is vital to Northern Ontario.

"I think we take Pearson for granted," Pouliot says. "We use the airport to get medical service in Toronto. We use it for meetings and for business development. It is very important for people in Northern Ontario to have efficient air service.

Pouliot is also concerned that an added burden will be placed on people of "modest means" should Northern Ontario flights be diverted.

Gordon Sinclair, president of the Air Transport Association of Canada, has also warned of increased costs and ticket price hikes.

Rerouting regional flights would make "second-class citizens" out of regional travellers and reduce economic opportunities for regional communities, says Sinclair.

Dave Thomas, an official with the SRDC and a member of its airport committee, indicates that studies submitted to the panel have disproved claims made by the opponents of the expansion, strengthening the position of northeastern Ontario.

However, Thomas warns that there is "a strong political lobby against the expansion."

Public hearings are expected to be completed by the end of the month. The panel will submit its report to the federal Department of the Environment, which will make its recommendation to Transport Canada during the first half of 1992.
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Title Annotation:Lester B. Pearson International Airport to remain open
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:482
Previous Article:Fact-finding teams to gather information for a new economic development strategy.
Next Article:Lakehead shopping developments get the nod.
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