Down East airport plan narrows to two sites

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 8:04 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The number of sites being considered for development of a regional airport has been whittled down to two from more than a dozen possibilities.

The town of Machias has spearheaded the effort to build a new airport in the area to replace an airfield that is too small to cater to business jets.

Because the current airport is hemmed in by U.S. Route 1 on one end and the Machias River on the other, it cannot be expanded into the kind of larger facility that officials hope would draw more economic opportunities to Washington County.

A committee of state, county and other officials developed an initial list of 14 potential sites but has narrowed it to locations in Marshfield and in the Unorganized Territory of Marion, local and federal officials said Thursday.

Betsy Fitzgerald, Machias’ town manager, said the two sites have the best physical characteristics needed for a small, regional airport.

The dozen other sites have fallen out of contention for a variety of reasons. Some were beyond the half-hour distance from Machias sought by the committee, Fitzgerald said, while others had potentially conflicting uses nearby or posed environmental concerns. A potential site in Jonesboro, where residents raised an outcry over the potential effects on the environment and quality of life, was dismissed because of the possible effect on wetlands, she said.

The site in Marshfield, which actually straddles the Northfield line near Route 192, and the site on Route 86 in Marion each have minimal potential wetland effects, according to Fitzgerald. The Marshfield site is only eight miles from Machias while the Marion site is farther away, she said, but the Marion site also is closer to Eastport, Calais and Lubec, which might benefit from such a facility.

“It could serve as a regional airport,” Fitzgerald said.

The county, which owns the Marion site, she said, has indicated it is willing to consider being a partner in the endeavor. She said she thinks it is likely the county will be involved wherever the airport might be built.

Fitzgerald said each of the final two sites has to be mapped from the air before it snows so officials can further consider the physical aspects of each. At least one public hearing on the potential locations likely will be held around the beginning of January, so that the committee can make a final recommendation by spring, she said.

“We haven’t gotten down to the nitty-gritty,” Fitzgerald said.

Once a final location is picked, an authority will be formed and will pursue approval for the site from the state and from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ralph Nicosia-Rusin, FAA’s regional airport capacity program manager, said Thursday the federal agency would fund 95 percent of the project’s costs, and the state and other entities would have to fund the rest. He said because of the expected size of the airport, its overall cost would have to be below $10 million. He said he doesn’t expect that would be an issue.

Besides weighing comments from the public, the FAA also has to review the potential environmental effects of a new airport before it decides whether to approve and fund its construction, he said.

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