June 18, 2018
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Knox County ready to use eminent domain to cut trees by airport

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

OWLS HEAD, Maine — The county may use its eminent domain powers to cut trees on three properties near the Knox County Regional Airport.

Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves said the county was able to reach an agreement with 12 other property owners along Buttermilk Lane in South Thomaston to cut trees on their land that are up to 100 feet tall and interfere with the flight paths of aircraft depending how close they are to the airport and whether they are on a rise.

But owners of three other properties — two on Buttermilk Lane and one on adjacent Philbrook Lane — have refused to go along with the proposed easements to allow the cutting of trees, Northgraves said.

Because of that refusal, he said the county must take the “distasteful” action of using eminent domain, Northgraves said. The Knox County Commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on setting a public hearing in late July about whether to take that step.

There have been no crashes at the airport due to obstructions in flight paths, Northgraves said. The crash in November which claimed the lives of three people resulted from a pickup truck and airplane striking each other during takeoff.

The county has taken steps to improve safety at the airport by limiting vehicles that can go on the airport grounds, increased training for those vehicle users, and giving the go-ahead to build another road on the side of the airport opposite the terminal. Northgraves said. The road will be built once the FAA approves a grant for the $100,000 project.

Under eminent domain, the government can either take property or obtain an easement against the wishes of the property owners.

The county will pay property owners fair market value for the loss of the trees, he said. While not discussing the negotiations with the three holdouts on the easements, Northgraves said about $300,000 has already been committed for the 12 easement agreements reached with other owners.

The number of trees, mostly maples and pines, to be cut varies per property, he said. That number will be known when the county gets the easements and can go on the parcels. The cutting will likely not be done until the fall of 2014, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration will reimburse the county for the easements, the airport manager said. The FAA will also reimburse the county for the cost, which has not been determined, of cutting down the trees.

The FAA increased the height of the minimum flight path for aircraft using the airport as of October 2012 because some trees had grown too close to the flight path. That will stay in place until at least some of the trees have been cut, Northgraves said.

The last time the county had to obtain easements from nearby property owners to cut trees was in 1998, and before that it was in 1992, when the county installed its instrument landing system.

The three property owners for which the county proposes using eminent domain are David and Carol Pollard, Jason and Michelle Benner, and Kenneth and Glenice Williams. A telephone message was left for the Williamses but has not yet been returned. The Benners and Pollards could not be reached for comment.

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