Tension was thick as pea soup at a public hearing Nov. 16 in Owls Head for a proposed new agreement between the town and county over growth at the airport.

By the end of the meeting, selectmen said residents will get to decide whether to approve the interlocal agreement at a special town meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30.

Forty-five people turned out for the Nov. 16 public hearing held in the lower level of the Owls Head Community Building. Participants wore masks, but physical distancing was difficult due to the number of people and the size of the room.

Resident Jared Schmelzer, who has organized an effort to stop the proposed agreement, criticized it sharply during the meeting. He maintained Knox County is breaching the agreement and that the proposed agreement would weaken, if not remove, the town's ability to control future growth at the airport.

Schmelzer said he was concerned an expansion of the airport would harm the quality of life for residents in Owls Head.

Other residents urged selectmen to end the public hearing and postpone the special town meeting, because it was not safe to hold the meeting in the community building room.

"There are a lot of emotions. Let's take the pressure off the March deadline," resident Ken Wexler said about holding off on the town meeting. He suggested the county give the town a 90-day extension to work on a new agreement.

Wexler said if the current proposal goes before the town meeting, it will be defeated.

The current interlocal agreement was approved in 2001 by the town and Knox County Commissioners and expires June 2021. The county noted, however, the agreement requires 90 days notice if it is not to be extended.

Selectman Gordon Page pointed out that selectmen have not adopted the plan, but negotiated a proposed one that is going before voters.

Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw said the Federal Aviation Administration requires a change in the agreement from the current one. He said he doubts the FAA would agree to a 90-day extension.

The proposed new agreement, Shaw said, recognizes the FAA’s authority, and creates a joint board made up of representatives of both the County and the town to deliberate actions taken by the airport in the coming years.

"Without the passage of the proposed interlocal agreement, the county would most likely issue a 90 day notice to terminate, as articulated in the current agreement, because it is not compatible with current FAA guidelines and would place the airport in violation of grant assurances it has made over the last 15 years with the Airport Improvement Program," the airport manager said prior to the meeting.

Schmelzer said the FAA may have say over the airport, but not over the town.

Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart said he is not aware of any expansion plans for the airport. The major project that was recently approved is for a solar farm on county property, which he said will benefit all communities in Knox County.

Shaw said there were no plans to add "one additional inch" to any of the airport’s runways.

"We see that in the recent guidance from the FAA stating that barring any special circumstances, the FAA will no longer consider improving runway 3-21 under the FAA’s AIP program. They have decided that it’s important for an airport to have at least one runway, but it’s not necessarily the taxpayer’s responsibility to maintain every runway surface at an airport that has multiple runways," the airport manager said.

Shaw said that weeks ago, the report suggested to the Owls Head Transportation Museum that it list a piece of property for sale with a real estate broker. He said the property was discussed at the last Airport Public Advisory Committee meeting as a piece of property that was inside the airport's perimeter fence that had hangars, and a taxiway that could benefit the airport in the future for a potential maintenance facility on the airfield, as well as a flight school.

He said no action was taken, but it was recommended by the APAC to form a task group to look at the possibilities for airport use, should it come to market.

Schmelzer interrupted county speakers on several occasions. Owls Head Selectmen Board Chairman Tom VonMalder repeatedly warned the resident not to interrupt the speakers.