DOVER-FOXCROFT — Dover-Foxcroft selectmen are considering a plan to convert the local airport into the home of a 4-megawatt solar power project, a proposal that is drawing opposition from pilots who use the facility.
In order for the solar project to move forward, Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field would need to be decommissioned, a town official said. A public hearing on the plan has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at the Morton Avenue Municipal Building .
Maine flying clubs are working to spread a message via social media to save the small airport, which consists of a single turf runway, a pilots cabin and two privately owned hangars. The airport, which is owned by the town, is used frequently by pilots of small aircraft and occasionally by LifeFlight of Maine, airport manager Steve Arno said.
An October 23 Facebook post by the Bowman Field Flying Club, which has been shared across several similar organizations’ pages, said, “Our Friends at Dover-Foxcroft airport could really use our help. They are working on setting up a Fly-In for November 10th or 11th so stay tuned.”
The post goes on to say that a “pilots log” has been left in the airport cabin and that all those using the facility should sign it to show the level of activity there. Pilots are also asked to send a picture of themselves and their planes to a number in the log book and to show up at the meeting on Nov. 12.
Selectmen are working with ReVision Energy on the solar project. The company evaluated Dover-Foxcroft for sites to potentially develop large-scale projects and create revenue via lease option agreements. New legislation provides opportunities for municipal solar initiatives, such as federal tax credits and rebates. The airport was identified as a good site.
“In order to do that the site would no longer function as an airport,” Town Manager Jack Clukey said during an October 15 selectmen’s meeting. He said a four megawatt solar project would provide the town with more than $1 million in lease and property tax revenue over a 30-year lease. The project could also provide Dover-Foxcroft with the opportunity to enter into a power purchase agreement for 15 percent annual savings in the town’s electric costs, he said.
“By the end of this year we need to make a decision,” Clukey said about closing the airport and moving forward with ReVision Energy before tax credits start to expire.
Clukey said the airport budget is about $3,000 for maintenance and insurance.
“A lot of recreational planes will come in and leave again,” Clukey said. “I don’t believe we have $3,000 worth of income [from them].”
Selectman Scott Taylor said the airport cannot grow beyond its current size due to a nearby water tower and adjacent privately-owned land. “So we’re kind of limited there,” he said.
Arno, however, said closing the airport would be a mistake.
“It gets plenty of use and once it’s gone, it will never be replaced.”
Piscataquis Observer Editor Mike Dowd contributed to this report.