OWLS HEAD, Maine — It took a few years of saving and $3 million in federal funding, but the Knox County Regional Airport, a two-runway operation, is building a new terminal. Airport officials will break ground this afternoon on what is expected to be a one-year project.
Right now the airport, which flies scheduled commercial planes only to Boston, is lacking glitz. The terminal is made of two double-wide mobile homes. The trailers’ floors are not stable enough to hold current TSA security equipment. In addition, the terminal has frequent power outages, water leakage, sewage backups and other problems.
The new terminal, which will cost approximately $4 million, will be a more spacious structure with 9,758 square feet — up from about 2,500. The new terminal will have space for security equipment, holding space for 30 people, the capacity for a restaurant and more.
The Knox County commissioners agreed to have the county pick up 12 percent of the construction tab — $574,580, which it took from its undesignated surplus to avoid having to borrow the money and burden taxpayers with the costs.
The overall financial impact of a new terminal, including general operating costs, is projected to cost each taxpayer in Knox County about 97 cents in 2011, according to the Knox County Regional Airport business plan. That number is projected to dwindle until 2017 when officials believe the airport will once again become profitable.
The state of Maine will pick up about 2 percent of the construction costs. The majority of the funding, about 85 percent, is from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Funds.
Airport Manager Jeff Northgraves is worried because Congress has tied up $1.4 million of the $3.7 million in expected federal money by not acting on the FAA appropriations since 2007. The FAA instead has been operating on continuing resolutions, but the resolution that should provide the Knox County airport’s funding hasn’t passed yet.
“Historically, the money has been there,” Northgraves said. “You can almost bank on it.”
The project will not interfere with the airport’s three daily flights in the winter or the five daily flights to Boston in the summer.
Right now the airport does not have the most up-to-date security equipment. Even if the floors of the mobile homes could hold the weight of the newer security machines, there would not be enough room. The machines require about 30 feet of horizontal space and the airport has only about 9 feet to give the TSA.
“Currently the terminal is a double-wide trailer,” said Ann Davis, spokeswoman for TSA. “I’m not aware of any safety issues, but certainly the new terminal will create efficiencies for both our officers as well as travelers, given the additional space and improved layout.”
The two mobile homes now sit among several aircraft hangars, one of which will be torn down to make room for the new terminal. This will keep the hangars and the passengers separate.
“You want the passengers to be separate from the business side for the safety of the customer,” Northgraves said. “This gives us the opportunity to anchor the customer side of it over here,” he said, pointing at the hangar that will be torn down and rebuilt on another part of the airport’s property.
Kevin Waters is part of the business side of things. He runs Penobscot Island Air, which brought in 8,700 of the airport’s 14,000 customers who flew out of Knox County last year. Waters’ business complements the airport’s only commercial carrier, Cape Air.
When people on Matinicus, Vinalhaven or the surrounding midcoast islands need wine, water and Thanksgiving turkeys, one of Waters’ 21 pilots hops into a small plane and delivers. Penobscot Island Air also holds mail contracts to the islands and helps law enforcement agencies when other modes of transportation cannot respond. Last year, Waters’ company made 145 emergency flights to the island.
Waters is happy the airport will have a new terminal. He has his own little huts outside the terminal, but his business might rent a desk next to Cape Air in the new facility.
“Our core business probably doesn’t fit in there right now, but if we get into a scheduled type of deal it may,” Waters said. Currently, the majority of his business is by appointment.
The terminal is expected to open between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled at 2 p.m. today at the Down East hangar.