MACHIAS, Maine — A consultant charged with finding a location for a new regional airport in central Washington County has narrowed the list of prospective sites down to one.
After reviewing more than a dozen locations over the past several years, the top choice picked by Watertown, Mass.-consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. is an 1,800-acre parcel east of Route 192 that straddles the town line between Marshfield and Northfield. The site is about seven miles north of Machias.
“It is their recommendation,” Betsy Fitzgerald, town manager of Machias, said Friday. “It meets the purpose and need of the project.”
To get feedback about the proposed site, a public forum is planned for May 12 at the University of Maine at Machias, according to Fitzgerald. The forum will be at 6 p.m. in Room 102 of the UMM science building, she said.
The choice of the parcel off Diamond Match Road, a logging access road, was made as a result of a draft environmental assessment completed by the consulting firm last month. It became the top pick, according to the assessment, because of its location and other physical aspects.
The site is within a 30-minute drive of Machias, which is a prerequisite of those looking to have the airport built, and it would have relatively little impact on nearby wetlands. It has been logged so it does not have mature undisturbed forest and it already is accessible by a road that could be improved. It does not have surrounding high ground that could interfere with air approaches and it would require relatively little grading or bedrock excavation.
According to Fitzgerald, it has existing gravel pits on-site that could be a source of gravel used in the airport’s construction, which could save on building costs. The actual parcel of land that would need to be developed would be about 7,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide, she said.
“It’s got a gazillion yards of gravel on this site,” Fitzgerald. “It’s a huge chunk of property. I don’t think this project will [require the airport authority to] buy the entire thing.”
Supporters of building a new airport say that a better facility could help promote development in Washington County. The area’s existing airstrip, Machias Valley Airport, is hemmed in by Route 1 on one end and the Machias River on the other, which makes the runway too small to accommodate business-class jets, according to Fitzgerald.
Some Washington County residents have criticized the idea of building a new airport, however. They have said that there is not enough development in the area now to justify building a bigger airport and that the expense would be a poor use of taxpayer money. According to federal funding formulas, the Federal Aviation Administration would pay 95 percent of the cost of building the new airport while the state and local governments would split the rest. Because of its expected size, the cost of building the airport is expected to be less than $10 million, FAA officials have said.
Besides considering public comments, the FAA has to conduct a full environmental assessment of the proposed site before it decides whether to approve the proposal and to fund the airport’s construction.