HOULTON, Maine — The Town Council rejected a motion to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to waive an aviation use-only requirement on a Houlton International Airport property that could otherwise threaten future federal funding for the airport.
The vote was taken during a special council meeting called specifically to deal with this issue on Wednesday.
Businessman Terrance Beals has owned the property in question — 19 Industrial Drive — since 1990. Beals had won an award in September to lease the building to the federal General Services Administration, beating out Jim Brown of the Houlton contracting firm Brown Development.
In response, Brown had challenged the award, saying the property was being used for non-aviation purposes and therefore in violation of FAA terms. In response, the FAA informed the town the property was in violation of its legal restrictions and warned it could pull funding for the airport, which is heavily dependent on FAA money to continue operation.
At the council meeting Wednesday evening, Beals and Brown, along with their respective attorneys, Jon Hunter and Sara Moppin, were present to discuss whether the town should send a letter to the FAA requesting it waive the restrictions on Beals’ property, allowing it to be used for non-aviation purposes.
“It is in the interest of the town to resolve the problem because there simply isn’t any aviation demand for this property,” Hunter said. “It’s much better for the town that this property be put to some productive use.”
“In the past few years, we’ve not had any aviation interest for any company to come forth and ask for any space at the airport,” Beals said.
Moppin argued that the town would be showing political favoritism to Beals if they were to request the waiver to the FAA.
“From my perspective, this is really a question of political fairness for the council,” she said. “If you intervene here on behalf of Mr. Beals, what you’d be doing is giving special political treatment and support to one Houlton business owner over another Houlton business owner.”
The town ultimately decided to vote against the motion, with councilors saying the waiver request could muddle its relationship with the FAA.
“Regrettably, I can’t back this for a myriad of reasons,” Councilor Bill McCluskey said. “I don’t think the town chiming in on this is going to do anything good, but could potentially jeopardize our relationship with the FAA.”