Stories of an old Navy friendship, a years-long town effort, a man and his dog, and a plane ready to fly when the runway is ready converged Wednesday night, June 29 at Wiscasset Municipal Airport. Pilots, the town, contractors and Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce feted the runway rebuild Stantec Consulting Service Senior Aviation Planner Ervin Deck said cost about $3.5 million. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and other federal funds are covering all but about $20,000, the town’s share, said Deck, a past manager of the town-owned airport off Chewonki Neck Road.
Deck said he could not have imagined getting through that project and others without the leadership and guidance of the man now manager, Rick Tetrev. He referred to Tetrev as XO, for executive officer – Tetrev’s title as second in command at Naval Air Station Brunswick when Deck was air traffic control facility manager at NASB in the early 1990s. They got reacquainted years later and developed a lasting friendship, Deck said.
The Brunswick base closed and became Brunswick Landing, where Steve Williams and other Wiscasset-based pilots have kept their planes since Wiscasset’s runway closed in April for the project. As of the event, Wiscasset’s new runway was still being sealed and its edges smoothed. The week of July 4 called for striping the runway and taxiways, Pike Industries’ Zach Ramsdell said.
Then come seeding and cleanup, Ramsdell said. “And (then) we should be out of your guys’ hair so you can get back to flying.” Tetrev expects the runway to reopen July 8.
Nick Knobil looks forward to it. When Wiscasset Newspaper readers met the pilot in 2019, he and friends were starting to build Knobil’s dream plane, a Sopwith Camel like Snoopy’s in “Peanuts.” Recently, “Pure Luck” got its airworthiness certificate, Knobil told Wiscasset Newspaper at the runway celebration. The plane served as backdrop for the speeches.
Does the certificate mean he can fly it now? “I can’t ’cause the runway’s closed,” but when it reopens, absolutely, he said, smiling. “It’s going to be awesome,” Knobil said of the runway. It is making a really good airport better, he added.
According to participants including Dianne Smith and Joyce and Richard DeVito, who were all greeting event-goers, one of the airport’s best features is nothing new: The friendliness. There’s a lot of wonderful people ... a nice camaraderie,” Smith said. “This is a special place.”
Tetrev shared with attendees the airport’s history he said dates to 1950s; it cost about $60,000 to build, a 2,000-foot runway was first paved in 1962, became 3,400 feet in 1968, was overlaid in 1982, and had major work in 1998, he said. “I think we would all agree, especially our pilots, that this reconstruction is certainly appreciated and long overdue.” He also noted some of the airport’s users help save lives: Tetrev said Patient Airlift Services (PALS), Angel Flight East and Angel Flight North East offer free air transportation to reach medical care.
A few times amid the speeches came the bark of Andrew Weinschreider’s great dane-greyhound Beau. Stantec’s resident inspector on the project said his dog has been at the work site with him daily. “So she’s seen more of it than most people (have). She has no job,” he told pilot John Crawford as they and fellow event-goers mingled near refreshments from Boothbay Craft Brewery, Bath Ale Works, Jodie’s Cafe & Bakery, and Maine Tasting Center. “If anything, she scares off wildlife.” And the runway? “The runway came out very, very nice.”
A total of more than $4 million in improvements – from easements to remove trees from the air space for safety and so Federal Aviation Administration would back the runway project – to the fuel system’s recent overhaul and the new runway and LED lighting – are helping attract “serious inquiries” from plane owners wanting to build hangers there now, Tetrev said. He has been inundated, he said. The town leases out the land people’s hangars sit on, Tetrev said.