MACHIAS, Maine — Renewed interest in and improvements at the airport prompted the area chamber of commerce to recognize members of the Machias Valley Airport Committee as volunteers of the year.
“The [airport] committee was selected as volunteers of the year by the chamber because this small group of dedicated people had the foresight to recognize the need for a highly functioning airport,” Sharon Mack, executive director of the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said Monday. “They reversed a pattern where the town of Machias was routinely turning away federal funding for upgrades.”
The award was presented during the annual chamber dinner on May 20.
Michael Radeka, chairman of the airport committee, called the award “unexpected” because it usually is reserved for an individual instead of a group. He said he is especially pleased the award comes from a business organization such as the chamber because it shows the businesses community understands the value of the airport.
“It validates what we’re doing,” he said.
The committee was founded about a year ago to lobby for improvements to the airport, which is owned by the town of Machias. The 10 to 12 volunteer members created a master plan for the airport and are receiving funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for improvements.
Radeka explained that the FAA gives each airport $150,000 each year, which can be used for equipment, repairs or maintenance, as long as it gets a 5 percent match from the airport owner — in this case, the town — and another 5 percent from the state.
“The only way you can spend that is there has to be an FAA approved plan in place,” Radeka said, adding the Machias airport didn’t have a plan until the committee formed and wrote one.
“Now the FAA is taking us seriously,” Radeka said. “They’re going to continue to do what they can do to fund us.”
If an airport doesn’t have a plan to use the funds, the money has to be returned. For years, the Machias Valley Airport returned the money.
Now, however, that has changed. Mack said the chamber wanted to acknowledge that the airport committee reversed that trend.
So far this year, the airport used $133,200 of its its $150,000 FAA allotment, Machias Town Manager Christina Therrien said. The state and town each provided a $7,400 match for a total of $148,000. Some of the volunteer labor by committee members also counted as in-kind contributions toward the local matching funds, according to Radeka.
Some of the money was used to buy a new rotating beacon, which is used to help pilots find the airport at night. Set to be installed by the end of the summer, the beacon will replace one that had stopped functioning years ago, Radeka said.
These funds also will be used for a new wind sock and segmented circle, which help pilots gauge the wind direction and speed, he said.
The committee also is busy making many smaller improvements. For example, volunteers are spending their Saturday mornings working to repair the runway lights. Radeka said the town spent about $4,000 for the parts necessary to repair the lights and volunteers are doing the work.
Other improvements include the addition of a portable toilet, because the airport terminal had no toilet.
Another improvement was a new terminal roof, for which the town paid $1,050, Therrien said.
Radeka said Ellsworth Building Supply provided discounted supplies and the airport got free labor thanks to inmates from the Downeast Correctional Facility.
“All we had to do was buy them lunch,” he said.
Radeka said he has seen a lot more interest in the airport over the last year, thanks to improvements and the efforts of the committee who regularly post on Facebook.
“I’m seeing more and more people interested, more and more comments,” Radeka said.
For the future, the committee has two main goals: to lengthen the paved runway and to lease land for hangars.
“The length of the runway is our limiting factor right now,” said Radeka, who explained that the current runway length of 2,900 feet is 600 feet too short for certain types of planes, including LifeFlight.
“They’re not flying here now because they can’t. The runway is not long enough,” he said.
Committee members are working with an engineering firm to get a cost estimate on lengthening the runway, Radeka said.
The committee is considering raising its own funds for the airport runway extension instead of going through the FAA because the FAA’s regulations would add to the cost and the time needed to do it, he said
“There are people that are interested in donating,” Radeka said. “They’d like to see the extension sooner rather than later.”
The town owns land adjacent to the airport and is working with the committee to prepare a sample lease to rent out lots for hangars. The town would not construct the hangars but instead would grade and prepare the land so the renter could construct a hangar.
“Hangars are going to be key, of course, that’s an income stream for this town,” said Radeka, who estimates rent for a hangar lot would be $100 to $200 per month, depending on the lot size.
“Four people are ready to write checks to build hangars,” committee member Bill Kitchen said.
“What we’re doing right now is laying the groundwork for future projects,” Radeka said.