GREENVILLE, Maine — Local leaders had hoped that support from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins would expedite an upgrade of the municipal airport’s automated surface weather observation system, but that hasn’t been the case.
“We’re still struggling with the National Weather Service on this … upgrade,” Town Manager John Simko said Thursday.
The upgrade is needed to provide pilots with accurate weather updates.
Town officials and local pilots worked for several years before the NWS agreed to move its weather station from the forestry station in downtown Greenville to the airport.
When that was done, Simko said, NWS officials said the system could be upgraded later. Late last year, however, town officials learned the system now in place can’t be upgraded and a new system is needed to get an improved forecast.
“The piece that remains frustrating to all of us is the [weather service] already has equipment up there. Why do we have to consider abandoning that equipment and going after a whole new array of equipment through the Federal Aviation Administration?” Simko asked. The upgrade was part of the earlier pitch for having it at the airport, he said.
The town has two options for a weather station at the local airport: one funded by the FAA and the other by the weather service, according to Simko. The weather service weather station is favored because the organization does all of its testing and calibrations at no cost to the town.
If the town has to install an FAA device, the town would have to hire a company to keep it up, Simko said.
Making the situation more urgent is the fact that the LifeFlight Foundation has set aside $55,000 secured through a Maine transportation bond about five years ago to help with the safety upgrades. That money is available through June 30.
Upon being contacted by Greenville officials, the two senators wrote and urged William Brennan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington to provide the $110,000 needed to make the upgrade.
John Hayes, assistant administrator for weather services in the U.S. Department of Commerce, who responded to the senators’ letter, said people at the Commerce, Transportation and Defense departments had discussed the request and agreed to retain the current operation, deciding that no upgrade was needed for any of those departments.
“The existing equipment at the Greenville airport meets the [weather service] requirements for forecasts and warnings and the FAA has no aviation requirements for a full” surface observation system, Hayes said. He said Greenville officials could, as an option, consider the purchase of a nonfederal automated weather observing system.
At a recent Greenville Airport Committee meeting, members discussed the option suggested by Hayes. They agreed, however, that the weather service-owned weather system would be preferable to an automated system.
While concerns were raised about the annual maintenance fees and liability exposure for the town’s owning and operating its own system, the committee agreed to research the option.
In addition, the committee recommended that town officials continue to seek help from the congressional delegation to secure an automated system.