OWLS HEAD — An attorney for the Maine Municipal Association has questioned the legality of a proposed six-month moratorium on airport construction which will go before residents Monday at the annual town meeting.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the moratorium proposal at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 at the town office.

A group of citizens opposed to development at the airport submitted 119 signatures to the town in July. The town certified 114 signatures, which is more than the 91 required to place the matter on the town meeting warrant. The petition organizers said the six-month moratorium would give the town time to develop land-use ordinances to regulate development at the airport.

The Select Board had voted unanimously not to place the matter on the warrant but the town ordinance allows residents to bypass the Select Board through a petition drive.

The town received an email opinion July 22 from attorney Garrett Corbin of the Maine Municipal Association which listed multiple reasons why the Select Board could have refused to place the item on the town meeting warrant even if citizens had filed the petition.

The attorney questioned the legality of the moratorium.

“In this case, my perspective is that any moratorium ordinance targeted at any one person or entity runs the risk of violating the prohibition on bills of attainder, contained in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3.1 of the U.S. Constitution, as well as any vested rights the airport or developer has obtained by virtue or previously receiving permit approvals, to the extent that has happened,” Corbin said in his opinion.

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart sent an email to the Select Board claiming the moratorium was unnecessary and questioning its legality.

“For several reasons, the premise behind the proposed Moratorium Ordinance is incorrect — Knox County is not planning to dramatically expand the area of the Airport or the intensity of its use, and so the proposed Moratorium Ordinance is unnecessary,” Hart said in the email.

The County is simply completing projects included in its Master Plan for building new hangars, Hart stated. The Planning Board has approved a total of 23 new hangars Hart pointed out would serve airplanes already located at the airport.

Knox County is also trying to purchase two acres on Benner Lane from the Owls Head Transportation Museum. This would provide six hangars within existing buildings. This property is within the existing fence of the airport, he noted.

The County is not planning or promoting the use of the airport by larger aircraft, Hart said.

“Not only is the Moratorium Ordinance unnecessary, but it also lacks legal justification,” Hart said.

“It also is questionable whether local, state, or the federal government can enact a law aimed, as this one is, at one specific party,” Hart stated.

The opponents to the airport decided to seek a moratorium after Knox County rejected a proposed interlocal agreement sought by those residents who argued it was needed to regulate development.

The Select Board negotiated a proposed new interlocal agreement with Knox County but that initial proposal was rejected 124 to 14 by Owls Head residents at the June, 2021 town meeting. Opponents claimed the 2021 proposal would have taken away rights the town had with the prior agreement, which expired in 2021. That agreement had been adopted 20 years earlier.

An ad hoc committee of Owls Head residents came up with a revamped proposal. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a letter to the County April 18, saying it could not accept the proposed agreement because several provisions would take away the control of the airport from Knox County, would unjustly discriminate against airport users and violates FAA rules and grant assurances.

Knox County then rejected the proposal.