MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town plans to buy 8.35 acres for $6,262.50 to eventually expand Millinocket Municipal Airport to allow some jet aircraft to land there.
The Town Council voted 7-0 on Thursday to allow Town Manager Eugene Conlogue to complete a sale agreement with Cassidy Timberlands to buy the land. With a preliminary sales contract already drawn up, the sale should be concluded shortly.
Councilors called the purchase a significant step in plans to expand the two-runway airport and its role as an economic cornerstone to the Katahdin region.
Councilors Jimmy Busque and David Cyr said the purchase was easy to agree to, as the Federal Aviation Administration eventually will reimburse the town for all but a fraction of the sale price.
“All the work on the airport is really a gift,” Cyr said. “It’s an economic development tool. It is something we can keep going by investing in it.”
Since 2005, and through several different town councils, support for airport expansion has been constant, but it has been slow, painstaking work as it has relied almost constantly on grants from federal agencies.
Pike Industries of Lewiston received $625,000 in May 2009 to remove a hill near the intersection of two airport runways and fill, pave and otherwise enhance safety at one end of one runway. That included a $488,130 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Pike’s work came after a $250,000 tree-removal operation aimed at clearing safety zones in and around the airport last fall in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
The town assumed direct control of the airport in 2007. Between 2005 and 2007, the council invested about $165,000 in town and federal money into the airport to buy two hangars and make other improvements crucial to the airport’s growth. Grant reimbursement covered all but about $4,500 of the work.
Built on Medway Road in the 1930s as part of programming created through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the airport has two runways, a main terminal and pilots lounge, six municipally and privately owned hangars, 13 tie-downs, and 24-hour fuel service. It can handle most light twin-jet and turboprop aircraft.
The main runway is 4,713 feet long and has pilot-controlled lighting. The other is 4,007 feet and can be reached by ski aircraft, according to the town Web site, millinocket.org.
With its nearest major competitors, airports in Bangor and Presque Isle, at least an hour away, and a lot of open space around it, the airport can facilitate a great deal of economic growth, town officials say.
Runways of at least 6,000 feet are usually adequate for aircraft weighing less than 200,000 pounds. Larger aircraft, including wide-body jets, usually require at least 8,000 feet. International wide-body flights sometimes require runways of 13,000 feet.
The purchase will allow the town to expand the longer runway to 5,000 feet, long enough to allow smaller chartered jet aircraft to land, council Chairman Scott Gonya said.
Town officials have said the airport’s longest runway could be expanded to 6,500 feet, but at the moment, councilors want it just long enough for smaller jets, he said.