‘A highway without the exit ramp?’ Wiscasset raises airport questions

Special town meeting gets date
Thu, 08/05/2021 - 8:45am

    Selectmen raised questions about the 50-year-old Wiscasset Municipal Airport Aug. 3. First, when Airport Manager Rick Tetrev said he was working on how to fund work on the fuel farm, Selectman Dusty Jones wondered why the town keeps the airport open. Then when the board took up the Federal Aviation Administration’s grant to rebuild the runway, selectmen wondered how the town could ever consider closing the airport, if FAA funding bars it.

    Forgoing the fuel farm work could mean trouble for everyone if fuel becomes contaminated, Tetrev told the board in the town office meeting room. He said he thinks it’s critical to do the work as soon as possible. The meeting is on the town’s YouTube channel, where Wiscasset Newspaper viewed it.

    Tetrev said the FAA would not fund the $37,000 to drain, clean and refill the tanks, but $5,000 left in CARES Act funds, another $13,000 from CARES this year and, if selectmen agree, $20,000 unspent in the airport’s last budget, should cover it. Town Manager Dennis Simmons added, the airport has $9,000 for maintenance this year.

    Replacing the tanks would cost about $600,000, 90% FAA funded, Tetrev said. That project may go into the airport improvement plan, he said. Meanwhile, the planned work should be good for five or 10 years, he said. He hopes to do it in September when the airport would be closed for the solar project.

    In 2018, the airport paid $132,000 wholesale for fuel and sold it retail for $172,000; in 2019, $119,826 was bought, $184,694 sold; and in 2020, $145,172 bought, $193,931 sold, Tetrev said. “So it’s a big deal and it helps,” he said. People come from all around for the price and the self-service, plus the airport has to have fuel to sell to the hangar owners, he said.

    “I’m just dismayed that once again we don’t do any planning,” Selectman Kim Andersson said after hearing from Tetrev about the tanks. Responding to a question from Jones, Tetrev said if the solar project gets the airport to turn a profit, that could be a first.

    “Why aren’t we talking about shutting this airport down,” Jones said.

    “We can’t,” Andersson said.

    “Whoa, whoa,” Chair Sarah Whitfield told Jones. That would be a “pretty big topic,” for another meeting or a workshop, she explained. Jones said he was not saying closure is realistic, “but I’m trying to understand why we need this airport so bad that we’re willing to accept such a burden.” 

    Tetrev will get the board a report on the proposed fuel project.

    The board accepted the FAA’s $3 million grant to rebuild the runway. The town is “a bit over the barrel” with decades of airport grants that require the property stay an airport, Andersson said. “But we can’t not accept the money because we are committed to always being an airport.” That has always been her understanding, but she would like to see the document, she said.

    Simmons will get her it. “I think that’s what it is, once you sell your soul to the FAA, that’s what you’ve done.” He doesn’t know where the exit ramp is, he said.

    Bringing up the fuel farm work again, Jones said the town will later have to pay the 10%, or $60,000, the FAA does not cover to replace the tanks. “It seems like this just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Where do we reach the point where it breaks?” 

    “We need to look at it. It’s time to look at it,” Selectman Terry Heller said. It sounds like “a highway without the exit ramp,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

    The board plans a workshop to address members’ questions and concerns. Whitfield asked members to give Simmons them in advance.

    Also Aug. 3, the board picked Aug. 31 for the special town meeting. The board will consider the warrant Aug. 17. Planned items have included the solar ordinance; tapping cemetery lot sales for up to $50,000 for an archway at Ancient Cemetery; Schoonerfest aid; a lower request for the school resource officer funding voters rejected in June; another try on the failed police cruiser request; and permission for the board to negotiate with Maine Art Galley on a longer lease.

    The board nodded plans to improve Ancient Cemetery. Whitfield said maintenance funds will pay for the fence. As for the proposed archway, resident Kim Dolce called it inappropriate for a small town cemetery. “What happened to good, old-fashioned New England frugality?”

    The archway was projected at $30,000; the rest of the $50,000 request avoids having to go back to voters if costs run higher, Andersson said.

    The board agreed to form a broadband committee, accepted a $16,537 dividend check from Maine Municipal Association Risk Management Services and thanked Donald Davis for a $500 donation to Wiscasset Ambulance Service. His and wife Cynthia Davis’ June 27 letter to Director Erin Bean states the Service’s “prompt response, quick evaluation and diagnosis” June 5 avoided a heart attack for him.