FAA Drops Plan New Maine Airport

The Federal Aviation Administration has dropped this Washington County town as a potential site for a regional airport in the wake of residents' strong opposition to the plan.

Opposition came in the form of a petition signed by 80 percent of Jonesboro's adults and two public meetings that drew about 100 dissenters.

Machias Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald, who sits on the committee looking into a site, said Wednesday that the FAA will draw a circle around the airport in Trenton and another around the airport in Princeton, each circle representing a distance of one-hour's drive.

"The FAA will look at everything in between," she said.

The committee consists of representatives from the Maine Department of Transportation; the FAA; Washington County Council of Governments; Edwards and Kelsey, the project engineers; and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., the group that conducted the environmental assessment.

"The FAA plans to identify some better-suited sites," Fitzgerald said, adding that the process was faulted because Jonesboro was not included in it.

"I think the FAA wants to avoid the overwhelmingly negative response they received in Jonesboro," she said. "They will be inviting communities that are interested in hosting an airport to step up and offer to participate."

The current location of the Machias Valley Airport was discussed and not completely eliminated, but several factors remain that would make an expansion there a less desirable project.

The change of heart is being seen in Jonesboro as a reward for the town's self-advocacy against siting the airport there.

"They thought we were ignorant peasants," Jonesboro activist Nancy Oden said Thursday. "They didn't expect the erudite, intelligent, local arguments they got."

Jonesboro residents objected to the airport site for many reasons, some of which included its proximity to the community's center, residential neighborhood and schools. It also was proposed to be located on the town's water source.

"They knew they could not win here," Oden said.

The process will continue, Fitzgerald said, with a Revised Draft Environmental Assessment, which will include all of the public comments.

A second public hearing will be held on the Revised Draft EA and then a Final EA would be produced. The FAA could close the current project with the Draft EA, stating that additional analysis was needed.

According to the minutes of the Jan. 5 meeting of the regional airport committee, other facets of the airport will continue to progress although the timeline now has been extended to three years. Year one would site the airport; year two would develop a draft plan; and year three would be funding through FAA grants, land acquisition and construction.

Scaling back the project to a 4,000-foot runway instead of 5,000-foot runway would reduce the costs and will be investigated.

Also, Jennifer O'Bryon of the DOT said that any site would work so long as the site does not limit further growth and that it could be further developed in the future.

Fitzgerald said that a bill will be presented to the Legislature this session that will create a regional airport authority.