J.D. Irving Ltd., and a number of community groups have issued a legal warning in a bid to stop the closure and possible dismantling of the Saint-Léonard airport in northwestern New Brunswick.

The cease-and-desist letter, addressed to the City of Edmundston and the Madawaska Airport Authority, says it appears some infrastructure from the airport is being taken apart and moved to a smaller airport outside Edmundston.

“You should ensure that the continued operation of the CYSL [Saint-Léonard] airport is maintained,” the letter states.

If not, “you will be held responsible for all prejudice and damage to the airport caused by your failure to comply” with the cease-and-desist demand, it continues.

Officials with the Madawaska Airport Authority said earlier this month that they would no longer operate the Saint-Léonard airport and would shift their focus to the smaller airport just outside the Edmundston city limits, on the Quebec border.

The Saint-Léonard airport has a troubled history. Like other federal airports, it was privatized in the 1990s and handed over to a local airport authority. It lost regular commercial passenger service because of low demand.

The City of Edmundston bought the airport from the local authority for $1, but last year transferred ownership to the Madawaska Airport Authority, which was already running the smaller Edmundston airport just outside the city.

Earlier this month, authority president Luc Michaud told Radio-Canada that the authority couldn’t afford to keep running two airports, and had failed to work out a cost-sharing agreement for the Saint-Léonard facility with the local regional services commission.

He said the authority had decided to focus on the Edmundston airport. The Saint-Léonard airstrip would still be available for emergency landings, but will not be plowed starting this winter, he said.

May be violating legal obligations

The new letter, written July 20 by Moncton lawyer Christian Michaud, says J.D. Irving Ltd., and community leaders have been working on a plan to revive the Saint-Léonard airport, and that’s why the Madawaska authority should hold off on closing it, dismantling its facilities, or selling its assets.

The letter notes that the Edmundston airport is on the border with Quebec. That’s at the very edge of northwest New Brunswick, while the Saint-Léonard airport is more central for most communities in the region.

J.D. Irving operates a large sawmill in Saint-Léonard, near the airport.

The letter warns that the airport authority may be violating its legal obligations if it permanently closes or dismantles the airport.

It also warns Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard that the city’s transfer of the Saint-Léonard airport to the Madawaska Airport Authority last year may not have been legal.

Madawaska Airport Authority president Luc Michaud said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the letter because the case may end up in court. Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard could not be reached for comment.