An open forum including the Knox County Commission, Owls Head Board of Selectmen, and members of the Owls Head Airport Advisory Committee and the Knox County Airport Public Advisory Committee centered primarily on issues of transparency Feb. 15.

Although the meeting was requested to shed light on some areas where the county's airport subcommittees "may not be functioning as well as the commissioners may think," as stated in a Jan. 16 letter from the Board of Selectmen to the commissioners, the chairman of the Owls Head Airport Advisory Committee, Kenneth Wexler, brought up many issues from his Zoning Board of Appeals case in 2017.

In his appeals application, Wexler cited four areas in which he felt the Planning Board, of which he is a member, erred in its decision to approve a Site Plan for a runway expansion at the Knox County Regional Airport.

Two issues brought up by Wexler in the nearly two-hour meeting Feb. 15 were:

— the extension of fencing and runway not being in accordance with the Interlocal Agreement;

— by previous agreement between the town of Owls Head and the county, all fencing is to be screened by trees.

Similar to his appeals case, which was denied, Wexler gave some history dating back to December 2009, when a business plan for the airport was put in place to create harmony between the airport and the town.

Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart steered the meeting, saying he wanted it to be productive and positive.

"If communication is an issue, let's see how we can improve that," he said.

State Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, who was instrumental in the formation of APAC, was also present, as she was a commissioner when most of the airport improvements took place.

"I'm not sure, at the moment, how things got off track," Beebe-Center said, explaining that during her involvement, several public meetings were held and advisory committees were formed, and entities "began to work together and got along, I thought."

Beebe-Center had hired a facilitator — Jeff Northgraves, who is now the manager of the Knox County Regional Airport — to correct FAA violations at the time at the airport, as well as to produce a business plan, one of Wexler's other concerns.

Wexler felt any amendments to that plan should go through the commissioners, not be allowed during any one of the sporadic meetings the subcommittees hold.

"From the county's standpoint, we can't fix something [at the airport] we don't know about," Hart said. "If you want transparency, it has to go both ways."

Hart also questioned the necessity for OHAC, given the fact that APAC has broadened its scope and no OHAC meeting minutes are posted on the town's website.

"Is there still a need?" he asked. "I've never heard anything from this group."

Hart said it was probably a good idea to have OHAC during the development and changes to the airport, "but we're now at 2018."

APAC is designed to provide a real and visible link between the Midcoast communities, the airport manager and the county. The 10-seat committee is specifically tasked with facilitating airport communications flow, to and from local communities and citizens, as well as providing aviation, environmental and business advice for airport management. Committee members are appointed to the 10 seats with staggered terms, according to the county's website.

OHAC is the liaison between APAC and the Board of Selectmen and its constituents.

Northgraves was called upon to answer several questions posed during the forum, and to rebut some of Wexler's statements — one specifically dealing with the town's sign ordinance.

Wexler asked whether businesses that lease space at the airport are following temporary and permanent sign ordinances.

Northgraves said it is up to the businesses to receive approval from the town for their signs, and Hart asked if the code enforcement officer had brought any concerns the the Board of Selectmen; they were not aware of any.

The next topic was the interlocal agreement between the town, the county and the airport, which is dated 2001 and expires in 2021, and which Wexler suggested having meetings to discuss the renewal of.

An automatic renewal of 20 additional years will occur if the entities do not submit a rewrite.

Northgraves admitted the FAA does not like the agreement, "because it prohibits us [the airport] from getting easements" which he said it is required to get for tree growth.

"They [FAA] are very protective of anything that is airport," Northgraves said, adding that it was his understanding that the FAA never reviewed the current interlocal agreement.

It was agreed that for rewrite or renewal purposes, the FAA should review any proposed agreement going forward.

Hart also asked who wrote the initial agreement, and who reviewed it for legal content.

Tom Von Malder, chairman of the Owls Head Board of Selectmen, recommended the Knox County Commission attorney review the current agreement and make suggestions.

In closing, Hart said he had a better understanding of why the forum was necessary.

"It's not always going to be perfect, but we can make it better," he said. "Hopefully the goal is to do it together, and not be controversial."

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at