Permanent helipad a top priority

A temporary helipad for STARS air ambulance has been in service at the High Prairie Health Complex since June 29, 2017, months after the new hospital opened in April. STARS urges local municipalities to progress on plans for a permanent helipad.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Plans to build a helipad at High Prairie Health Complex are ready to soar higher.

At its meeting Aug. 26, Big Lakes council appointed two councillors to an Alberta Health Services heliport landing committee.

North Gilwood – Triangle Ken Matthews and Grouard Councillor Fern Welch were appointed by council in a vote by secret ballot.

“The helipad project was identified as one of council’s top capital priorities,” CAO Jordan Panasiuk says.

“In discussions with the helipad landing committee, they recommend the very first step is to meet with the relevant stakeholders.”

The committee, headed by commercial pilot Jessica Stevenson, has agreed to set up the meeting and contact partners in the project.

“We have to get all the stakeholders together, including the Town of High Prairie and High Prairie and District Health Foundation to move the project forward,” Panasiuk says.

“The project itself is expected to cost somewhere in the range of $700,000 to $1 million, according to a heliport engineer.”

Fundraising and planning for the project started a few years before the new High Prairie Health Complex opened in April 2017.

However, little progress has been made on the project.

Local municipalities have been recommended by STARS air ambulance to push forward on the project.

At its regular meeting Jan. 8, county council was urged by Glenda Farnden, STARS senior municipal relations liaison.

“In 2019, High Prairie was the top community in northern Alberta for missions for STARS based in Grande Prairie, pointing to the need for a permanent helipad,” Farnden says.

Statistics show High Prairie Health Complex recorded 15 inter-facility STARS transfers in a year that had 33 total missions in the county region.

STARS also landed seven times at incidents in the nearby High Prairie area.

A temporary helipad in an open field southeast of the complex went into service June 29, 2017, two months after the new hospital opened in April 2017.

Reeve Richard Simard says the project needs to elevate in the list of priorities for the community.

“It’s a good time to push hard because of our numbers,” Simard says.

“There’s talk and a committee is working on it, it’s really important.”

Both the county and the Town of High Prairie are taking steps to get support from the provincial government to construct a permanent helipad.

At its regular meeting Dec. 11, 2019, county council approved a request from the High Prairie and District Community Health Foundation that a helipad be discussed at the next inter-municipal committee meeting to lobby the government.

However, Farnden says no community has received government funding for any helipad project in Alberta.

Transport Council authorized STARS to construct a temporary helipad on condition the community develop a plan for a permanent facility, Farnden says. “We want to work more closely with you to have a plan,” Farnden says.

She warns that Transport Canada may not extend the temporary helipad too much longer.

Simard says it’s urgent to take the next steps soon.

“We need to do engineering first, get some options, find out costs and work on a plan to get support from partners and the community,” Simard says.

The project could range from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on requirements and features, says STARS aviation project manager Jason Arthur.

Farnden says the Valleyview helipad cost about $200,000 five years ago and was funded by the Town of Valleyview, the M.D. of Greenview and Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.

She suggests that business, industry and Indigenous communities be approached for funding and support for the High Prairie helipad.

“It’s vital to bring in community partners,” Farnden says.

The county has some designated funding that could be used for a permanent helipad, says Heather Nanninga, director of corporate services.

“We have a reserve account called medical equipment reserve to purchase medical equipment, which could include a helipad,” Nanninga says.

However, nothing is allocated to a helipad, she says.

Some funds raised at the first two Big Lakes County Invitational Charity Golf Tournaments in 2014 and 2015 were allocated to a future helipad.

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