Cold Lake’s mayor described a decision to move the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) to the international airport in Ottawa “strange” and “sad.”
The Department of National Defence announced this week it plans to relocate the testing site currently based at CFB Cold Lake to Ottawa, saving about $14 million each year in operating costs.
“The community is a bit shocked,” said Cold Lake mayor Craig Copeland.
“It was in the works for a few years now,” Copeland said. “The rumor was that AETE was going to move some personnel from Cold Lake.
“The issue really is that it kind of caught everybody off guard that it was announced in the House of Commons in Ottawa, rather than have a bureaucrat come to our community and explain what was going on with AETE.
“We have a great relationship with the wing commander and colonel at AETE, but… a lot of the decisions come from Ottawa. And Ottawa doesn’t necessarily come to your community and spend a lot of time engaging with the mayor and council on their plans for the fighter base here in Cold Lake and for AETE,” Copeland added.
The unit has been operating out of Cold Lake since 1971.
The mayor said about 2,200 people work at the Cold Lake 4 Wing. Nearly 200 people work at the testing unit and about 50 engineer-type positions will be relocated to Ottawa.
“Right now, with the the economy the way it is,” Copeland said, “for a small community like ourselves, it’s a big number.”
He said the soft housing market in Cold Lake is going to create challenges for anyone who has to relocate.
“The way the oil patch is right now up in northeastern Alberta, then you add this on there, it’s just the uncertainty,” Copeland said. “There seems to be so much of the federal government and the provincial government really influencing the day-to-day activities here in Cold Lake and it’s out of our control.
“It’s going to be a sad day to see that unit leave a fighter base to go to a big civilian airport. It’s kind of a strange decision.”
The Department of National Defence said the final details are still being worked on, but said the move to Ottawa would not take place until 2021.