Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart said he thought it was a mistake when the county was informed its airport would receive $18 million as part of the federal stimulus plan.

That amount is more than the largest airports in Maine received from the Federal Aviation Administration as part of the bailout program.

But Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart said he knows the first $2,067,000 is guaranteed, but he will not count on the remaining $16 million until he sees it on paper.

Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw acknowledged he was surprised by the grant amount but said after reviewing the criteria, it appears that the formula benefits an airport such as Owls Head. He said similar-sized airports around the country have received similar amounts.

The initial $2 million will go to pay for operations and maintenance for the next four years. That means that money the county would have raised from local property taxes will not be needed.

Money budgeted this year that does not need to be used because of the federal grant can be put into the airport's reserve account or airport surplus account.

The airport manager said what critics of the amount received by Knox County have missed is that the money will go directly into the community to stimulate the economy as is the goal of the federal program.

"We're not buying Lamborghinis. This will go to pay plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and paving companies," Shaw said.

There are 75 people whose jobs are tied to the airport, he noted. This includes Downeast Air, Penobscot Air Service, Budget Rental, the Salty Owl cafe and county staff.

The money could also be used to bring broadband service to the airport that would benefit Owls Head and South Thomaston, Shaw said.

The money is meant to support airports that have seen passengers and revenues drop since the COVID-19 outbreak occurred. Shaw said if there are two passengers aboard a Cape Air flight that is considered a lot since the outbreak began. The parking lot, which has been a source of revenue for the county, has one vehicle parked in it, he said.

The Portland International Jetport will receive a $12 million grant, Bangor International Airport $4.1 million and Presque Isle International Airport about $1 million.

According to an article in the Portland Press Herald, the calculation method used by the FAA created anomalies in how funding was doled out to airports.

Half the funding was based on the number of passenger boardings – those with more passengers received higher awards. Only four Maine airports hit the 10,000 passenger boarding threshold for increased funding based on 2018 data. Portland had more than 1 million passengers that year, Bangor had more than 336,000, Owls Head had about 17,000 and Presque Isle had a little over 10,000.

But the calculation model approved by the U.S. Senate also took into account debt and cash reserves. 25% of the award was based on airport debt, and the other 25% was based on an airport’s ratio of debt to cash reserves.

Under that scenario, airports such as Knox County, which has no debt and some cash on hand, wound up receiving huge windfalls, at least on paper.

The airport manager said if the county receives the remaining $16 million there are projects and maintenance that have been planned that would be paid for with the grant.