PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For the first time in approximately 50 years, the grounds of Northern Maine Regional Airport will be fully enclosed thanks to a $1.3 million project to build 35,000 linear feet of fencing around the facility.
The fencing project began in June and will be completed later this month.
Scott Wardwell, airport director, said Thursday that the project has been a long time coming. The airport, which was once a former air base, soon will be fully enclosed with security fencing for the first time since the base was turned over to the city in the early 1960s.
“We are very pleased that this is getting done,” Wardwell said. “This not only will enhance security, it also will keep animals and other wildlife off the runway and will bring the airport into compliance with FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] regulations.”
The fencing is primarily intended to keep the public off the runways and safety areas, which Wardwell said needs to be kept clear for safety reasons.
He noted that, in an emergency, the grassy areas adjacent to the runways need to be available to aircraft. A pedestrian or vehicle in these areas, he said, would be “a great hazard” in the event an aircraft needs to use the area to make a complete stop in an emergency.
Wardwell said the project was financed through taxes that fliers pay on purchasing an airplane ticket. The money is collected in a trust fund for airport improvement projects.
While vandalism and trespassing on airport grounds are not a huge problem, Wardwell acknowledged they are a concern.
He noted that a substantial amount of vandalism was done to the airport’s runway edge lights this summer. The lighting is needed by aircraft for landing at night or during times of low visibility.
Wardwell said the area where the vandalism occurred sometimes is used by pedestrians because it provides a shortcut between Northern Maine Community College, the Bon Air Housing Complex and the city’s industrial park to downtown Presque Isle.
“It is not uncommon to see people walking out there,” he said.
There was a small partition of old fencing in the area, but it had been cut several times by people wanting to walk through.
The project is ahead of schedule and under budget.
Wardwell said that once the fencing project is complete, tampering with it to gain unauthorized entry to the airport is a crime that will lead to misdemeanor charges, which hold the potential for a fine or jail time. Depending on the severity of the crime, felony charges could be filed.