Machias selectmen review master plan of airport

Posted Feb. 09, 2011, at 9:07 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration have jointly developed a $1.2 million Capital Improvement Plan for the Machias Valley Airport, which will be implemented over the next five years.

“The odds are that we are not going to see a 5,000-foot runway in Washington County,” Town Manager Chris Loughlin told the Machias selectmen Wednesday night. “It is best to concentrate on what we have and improvements there.”

In September 2009, more than 80 people turned out for a selectmen’s meeting, most objected to the creation of a regional airport. The idea of a regional airport had been discussed for several years and several locations had been selected and then rejected.

At that meeting more than a year ago, Chairman Aubrey “Skip” Carter said the board had three choices before it:

• Do nothing;

• Extend the runway by 600 feet to provide a safe-landing buffer;

• Approach the county commissioners about undertaking a regional airport.

Carter polled the selectmen who all opposed a regional airport but were divided on whether to spend money for an extension.

Carter explained that the town could apply for a FAA grant that would cover 95.7 percent of the cost of the expansion. The town would have to pick up the remaining 4.3 percent, he said. The Town Manager at the time, Betsy Fitzgerald, said the grant would also be used to upgrade the airport and install gas pumps.

“The sale of gas would be used to offset maintenance costs and actually decrease what the town appropriates for the airport each year,” she said. The board rejected applying for a grant and opted to leave the airport as it is.

The problem now, Loughlin explained Wednesday night, is that MDOT and the FAA want to formalize agreements previously accomplished through handshakes to remove trees that obstructing the runway approach.

“The FAA is looking at purchasing easements or property in the area to remove the trees,” Loughlin said.

The capital plan for 2011 includes updating the airport’s master plan and survey the property at a cost of $250,000. Loughlin said the town likely would be responsible for only 2.5 percent of that cost.

The future plan includes:

Year 2012 — Assess the area environment for obstruction removal, $60,000.

Year 2013 — Acquire easements and permitting, $200,000.

Year 2014 — Remove obstructing trees, $500,000.

Year 2015 — Design and permitting for runway reconstruction, $250,000.

Selectman Danny Manchester expressed his concern that if the FAA purchased land to cut the trees, property taxes would be lost. Loughlin reassured him that the FAA will be seeking easements rather than purchases.

In other business:

• Carter and Loughlin were appointed to the Washington County Council of Governments board.

• The board approved an abatement for property that was assessed twice and for a mobile home that was not there.

• Edward Pellon was appointed to the Machias Budget Committee.

At the close of the meeting, the board entered into three executive sessions dealing with two union grievances and the union contract proposal.

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