Airport reopens while Wiscasset, CMP, feds address pole issue

Fri, 07/22/2022 - 9:45am

    Wiscasset Municipal Airport Manager Rick Tetrev said in a phone interview July 20, he was a happy camper. About two hours earlier, with selectmen’s nod the night before, the airport reopened.

    Closed months ago for the runway’s redo, the town-owned airport was due to open earlier this month. Then came word the Federal Aviation Administration could not yet certify the airport to open as safe, due to a new utility pole that resulted from the years-long effort of getting easements and removing obstructions before the runway project could proceed, Tetrev said. The pole replaced one “right in front of” a home, he said. “(Central Maine Power) took that (pole) down and put the wires underground, and then erected (the new) pole.”

    Tetrev explained, FAA requirements called for reporting the pole to the agency so it can determine if the pole is a problem or not. “We did as we were supposed to and reported (it)” and, for now, the FAA is terming the pole a distraction, Tetrev said. “They said if you want to open, go ahead, but you’re going to be liable if there’s an accident because of that.” The FAA will do a study and is waiting to hear from the town on a plan for the pole, he said.

    According to Tetrev in the interview and pilot and Airport Advisory Committee Chair Steve Williams at selectmen’s July 19 meeting, the pole is near the woods, well away from the runway and is not what pilots are looking at when they land.

    Stantec’s Dave Nadeau, lead engineer on the runway project, said the pole is six or seven feet too tall, but about half the height of trees near it. He explained to selectmen, the FAA is not factoring in the trees, because those could someday be gone, leaving only the pole. The FAA is waiting on the airport and CMP to figure how to mitigate the issue, Nadeau said. The options, short of shortening the runway, appear to be shortening the pole or moving it further down Chewonki Neck Road, he said. The matter is being discussed with CMP and the other utilities that use the pole, he said.

    “Right now we’re in ... a temporary no man’s land, where FAA cannot make a determination, so we’ve got a nice, brand new runway that’s closed without an airspace determination,” Nadeau said.

    Tetrev told selectmen, “There are a lot of people affected by this (continued closure), and not in a good way.” Elaborating in the interview the next day, he said it impacts tourists and businesses, and hangar owners who have had to store their planes at, and fly out of, other airports. And WMA would rather they not get comfortable using the other ones, Williams said. “We want them back here at Wiscasset.”

    “This is unbelievable,” Selectman Terry Heller said. She suggested camouflaging the pole as a tree like she said is done for cell towers. Town Manager Dennis Simmons said the idea was raised and is not an option.

    CMP spokesman Catharine Hartnett explained to Wiscasset Newspaper in response to questions Friday, poles have wires running on them and servicing them would be unsafe if the poles were covered with camouflage.

    Selectman Dusty Jones said in the July 19 meeting, he did not care what is done about the pole, he did not want to delay the airport’s opening. “I think it’s a very slim chance that it would be a problem” for a pilot, he said.

    Selectmen’s Chair Sarah Whitfield asked if her understanding from the discussion was correct, that if the town reopened the airport now, the town would be  “kosher” with the FAA while the agency awaits the town’s proposed solution, and then if the FAA rejects it, “we could then shut (the airport) down, so that they don’t,” and another solution can be found. Correct, Nadeau said.

    The board unanimously passed Jones’ motion for Simmons and Tetrev to work with CMP on the “most suitable, quickest” plan for the pole and in the meantime open the airport.

    John Sowles, president of a hangar owners’ group at the airport, took a moment to praise Tetrev to the board. Tetrev has been doing a fabulous job, for years on the project and every day for the airport, including being a great ambassador representing the town for people who come in from all over the country, Sowles said.