After nearly two and half hours of public discussion, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen approved an airport master plan with a 3-2 vote, during a special board meeting July 22. Selectmen Ben Rines and William Barnes voted in opposition.
Owners of the abutting private property, the Chewonki Campground, have expressed concern with a proposal in the plan to remove several trees that obstruct the airport's airspace. Some of the trees in question are on the airport property. Some are on the campground property.
Campground owners Pam Brackett and Ann Beck have said the removal of several trees on their property would impact their business and requested revisions to the plan.
According to Wiscasset Interim Town Manager Don Gerrish, the revisions were reviewed by separate consultants for the airport and the campground. Although amendments were made to the plan, they were not enough to satisfy the Chewonki Campground owners.
As adopted, the master plan states navigation easements will be required over private land on both ends of the runway to help mitigate issues with tree penetration. The size and location of the easements will be determined through a separate project beginning with negotiations with respective landowners once a master plan is approved.
The issue facing the airport in the next five years is the reconstruction of Runway 7-25, which was built in 1968. Before the Federal Aviation Administration will fund the project, the master plan has to be approved. The cost to reconstruct the runway is estimated to be $1.2 million dollars with the FAA paying 90 percent of the cost, the Maine Department of Transportation and Wiscasset paying 5 percent respectively.
Selectman Pam Dunning said the master plan is only a plan, not a contract, and funding to negotiate these issues would not be available until the plan is adopted.
Selectman Ben Rines asked why the town needed a new plan, since the current plan still has six years left on it.
Wiscasset Airport Manager Ervin Deck said the plan needed to be updated much earlier but was delayed to see how the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station was going to impact Wiscasset and the growth at the airport from four hangers in 2001 to 32 hangers in 2014.
Several people spoke of the importance of the campground, and the airport to Wiscasset. Steve Williams said, "A plan is not a directive, adopt the plan and move forward." Mike Muchmore, former Wiscasset Airport Fixed Based Operator, said, "Approve the plan and work together."
Former Selectman Ed Polewarczyk said the plan was incomplete, and that was why he voted against it when he was a selectman.
Another resident said, "This is not a meeting to spend money, it is a meeting to achieve the money to do the work to resolve the problem"
Chewonki owner Pam Brackett asked, "How can we move forward with a compromise with fairness. An easement is not right and just."
Selectman William Barnes asked what the town's debt would be to FAA should the town not have a master plan. Gerrish said he asked that question recently and was told it would be a long process but the debt would be in the millions.
FAA Representative Ralph Micosia-Rusin told the selectmen should the FAA and the MDOT discontinue funding for the airport it would also mean the town would receive no funding from MDOT for anything else for the town.
A representative from the MDOT also told the selectmen even if the town received no funding from the FAA, they would have to keep the airport open for several years at their expense because of contracts connected to the airport.
When the discussion was completed Selectman Tim Merry made a motion to approve the master plan with the amendments, it was seconded by Selectman Pam Dunning. The motion carried 3-2.