DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A municipal solar power project will not be located at the town airport at the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field on Pine Street.
During a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night in the Morton Avenue Municipal Building Gymnasium, the board passed a motion to focus on a solar project at an alternate site other than the airport. The decision came following a 65-minute public hearing featuring 23 speakers — and more than two dozen emails from around Maine and the country included in correspondence — all in favor of keeping the airport as an aviation space.
Town officials had been considering the possibility of converting the 70-acre municipal airport with 7-acre runway into the home of a 4- or 5-megawatt solar power project.
They 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 through lease option agreements. New legislation provides opportunities for municipal solar initiatives, such as federal tax credits and rebates. The airport was identified as a prime site.
George Graves of Brownville, who owns a hangar at the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field, first asked the selectmen to consider the family of the airport namesake. “Through their grief they did what helped them and helped the town,” Graves said.
A plaque at the site reads Charles A. Chase Memorial Field. This air field was given to the town of Dover-Foxcroft by Ruth W. Chase and C.A. Chase in memory of their son Charles A. Chase Jr., who built this field and used it as a base of operation. Charles A. Chase Jr. was killed on Dec. 18, 1959, while flying from this field.
“What you see now is a moral obligation,” Graves said. “It makes no sense to be the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Power Station.”
He said there is interest from other pilots in building hangars, but they are waiting until a decision on the airport is made. Graves said whenever he flies he spends money in town and others would do likewise. He said a national study indicates for every $1 put into an airport far more goes back into the local economy.
“Rather than closing it off, we should be working on development,” Graves said. He said there are other sites in town that could be used for a solar project.
Graves requested an airport manager be hired (Steve Arno who has been serving in the capacity is looking to retire), a working group for the space be established and a guarantee the airport will always remain as such.
Resident Chris Arno began his remarks by asking if anyone present did not want the airport to remain open, and no hands from the 60 audience members, with 10 later identifying themselves as pilots in response to a later question, went up. He said the airport provides recreational opportunities, brings in tourists and is an asset for public safety.
Arno said he would like to build a hangar at the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field, mentioning a figure of $30,000 or more, but “to do that we need to maintain the security of the airport for the long term.”
“Our ultimate goal is to lock it down either by wording in the deed to keep it an airport or turn it back over to the [families] to keep it an airport,” Arno said.
Michael Chase, his sister Carolyn Chase Hall and their cousin Ginger Rush, all grandchildren of Charles A. Chase Jr., mentioned their family history in the area and how their grandfather died at 37 with four young children.
Speaking about her great-grandparents’ 1961 donation of the airstrip and acreage to Dover-Foxcroft, Rush said, “I know their intent was not only to keep the airport open but to keep their son’s memory alive.”
Chase Hall said the last few weeks her family has seen the community pull together to save the airport. “The airstrip is the Chase family’s memorial to our grandfather,” she said, adding they go to the airport instead of his grave.
“Thank you everyone for your comments, we appreciate your insight,” Select Chair Elwood Edgerly said at the close of the public hearing.
Before passing the motion, the selectmen discussed a 30-acre parcel on the transfer station property as a potential alternate site for a similar-sized solar project.
“It appears that is something we can do something with, but it is going to take some more investigation,” Town Manager Jack Clukey said.
Selectman Steve Grammont said possible sites may appear to be a good fit, but this does not always turn out to be the case upon an engineer’s review. “It’s the first thing we are going to be looking at to see if it’s viable,” he said.
Clukey was asked about benefits to a municipal solar project and he said there are three pertaining to the legislative incentives.
“The first is the revenue we could generate off leasing the land, 20-30 years,” he said. “We can tax the structures, the solar arrays, and then we can enter into a power-purchase agreement and lock into below market rates. It’s a budget expense for energy that we can reduce.”
The town manager also said that land-use ordinance amendments would be brought forth to allow for the solar project if need be.
The selectmen took another action by appointing Kole Stevens as interim airport manager, succeeding Steve Arno who oversaw the space for a number of years. Clukey said Stevens owns the second hangar at the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field.
The board’s promotion and development committee will also work on developing an airport advisory committee involving the town and aviators.