FITCHBURG, Mass. -- Time is running out to hire a consultant to plan for expansion and other projects at the Fitchburg Municipal Airport, said Kit Walker, chairman of the Airport Commission.
The airport's agreement with its current consultant, Gale Associates Inc., has expired, according to Airport Manager Fred Guertin.
"As a commission, we have to get this consultant selection process started. We have to," Walker said during the commission's monthly meeting Wednesday.
The timeline is tight because the consultant -- whether Gale or another firm -- must submit grant applications to the Federal Aviation Administration by May 1.
Commissioners agreed to meet Feb. 26 to prepare a request for proposals to hire a consultant.
Armand Dufresne, of Gale, updated commissioners Wednesday on progress in preparing an airport master plan, which includes lengthening the runway. Dufresne and others met recently with Denis Meunier, the city's public works commissioner, who said he sees no problems with placing the runway over an old city landfill used for paper waste.
Commissioners Wednesday also discussed the issue of several airplane owners who have been keeping their planes at the airport for free. Specifically, the planes are parked on the area rented by Twin City Airmotive, an aircraft maintenance business. These "free riders" have been at the airport since at least December, Guertin said.
"They're all aware that no one parks their aircraft here for free," said commissioner John Godek. He made a motion -- which passed -- that the airport charge the plane owners retroactively for the time they've been there.
A topic of contention at Wednesday's meeting was whether the airport should charge penalties to businesses that are late in their rent payments.
"They don't suffer any penalties, and they don't fear any penalties," Godek said.
But Guertin said the businesses might not be able to afford any late fees.
"We've got a lot of businesses here that I don't think are doing really well. I think they're borderline," Guertin said.
Commissioner Bob Boutwell agreed to ask City Solicitor Deborah Phillips about the legality of charging penalties.
Commissioners also discussed the ongoing process to establish leases with all businesses that rent space at the airport. The commission is currently reviewing responses from Liebfried Aviation and Twin City, in regard to proposed leases.
As far as writing a lease with Gene Collette, who runs the airport restaurant, commissioners said they'd like to stay with a tenant-at-will agreement for now. Boutwell said he'd write up a contract with Collette.
Commissioners will wait until at least June -- by which time they hope to know more about plans to rebuild the airport terminal -- to put the restaurant out to bid.
Airport officials learned in November that legally, the restaurant must go through a public bidding process because it's a non-aviation business operating at the airport. Collette, who currently pays $900 in monthly rent, can place a bid.
Commissioners also re-elected Walker as the commission's chairman for 2007, and elected Boutwell as vice-chairman and John E. Murray, who was absent from Wednesday's meeting, as secretary. Sue Beauregard recently resigned from the commission.
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Gene's Airport Restaurant is a non-aviation part of the airport and therefore is subject to public bidding processes.
They're also hoping that consultant will submit applications for federal grants by May 1, which is in less than a week.
The Fitchburg Municipal Airport is poised to become a major contributor to the regional economy over the next two decades.
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