Airstrip upgrade option flies for water bombers

By Chris Thomson | posted on September 22, 2017

UPGRADING a private airstrip north of Mount Barker to handle water bombers has been ditched in favour of a revamped public strip at Cranbrook that would provide better fire fighting coverage across the Great Southern.

At a meeting in Mt Barker today, CEOs of the shires of Cranbrook, Plantagenet, Kojonup and Broomehill-Tambellup will discuss if potential exists to upgrade the council-owned strip on the northern outskirts of the town of Cranbrook.

“We’d be receptive to the plan,” Cranbrook CEO Peter Northover told The Weekender.

“It’s been something that’s been dear to my heart for some time.

“It would be fantastic for the region.”

Mr Northover said that, working together, the four shires might attract state government funding to reform the Cranbrook grass strip as a gravel one, improve lighting, and build an apron and turn-around areas – which would allow the strip to handle water bombers.

“It’s probably one of the largest strips in the Great Southern,” he said of the 850m long runway.

“Adding water bombing operations would improve [bushfire] response times.

“[And the planned improvements] would open up the region for eco-tourism operations.”

Mr Northover said circuit-training operators might also be attracted, given the region’s “uncontested airspace and good visibility”.

He said upgrading the strip might also bring the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Pilatus PC-12 single turbine aircraft into the picture to respond to serious highway crashes.

The planned Cranbrook upgrade follows a unanimous decision at last month’s Plantagenet shire meeting to jettison an earlier plan by that council to upgrade the grass airstrip at the former Karri Oak vineyard now owned by West Cape Howe Wines.

Plantagenet Shire President Ken Clements said $200,000 would be a “very ballpark” figure for the Cranbrook upgrade.

Cr Clements said that upgrading the larger Cranbrook strip would make more sense than revamping the smaller Mt Barker one.

“It is more centrally located and could service the Stirling Range, northern part of Plantagenet, out to Frankland, the northern part of Cranbrook, and the southern side of Kojonup,” he said.

Plantagenet councillor Brett Bell was the man who moved that the Cranbrook option be examined in favour of Mt Barker.

“The Karri Oak plan would have overlapped the range of the Albany water bombers,” he said.

“It’s all about making better use of taxpayer funded water bombers for more communities.

“And the Stirling Range National Park is really something that needs to be protected.”

An estimate provided in March by Plantagenet CEO Rob Stewart considered a minimum $139,000 would have been required to up- grade the Karri Oak airstrip.

The shire would also have needed to rent the strip off West Cape Howe Wines, adding $10,000 a year to the cost of the abandoned plan.