OWLS HEAD — About 24 people turned out Thursday evening, Aug. 25, for a public hearing on a proposed moratorium for construction at the Knox County Regional Airport, with citizens voicing opposing views on the need for such action.

The proposed six-month moratorium will be decided at the annual town meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29 at the town office. The wording of the moratorium claims that the town is under threat of increased noise, traffic and environmental degradation due to development at the airport.

Planning Board member Ken Wexler said the moratorium would help the town get respect from Knox County. He denied, however, that this was a negotiating tactic to get a better deal from the County on a new interlocal agreement.

David White asked why a moratorium was needed now since the projects being currently undertaken by the airport have been included in the airport’s master plan for the past six years.

“There is no crisis developing now,” White said.

Lauren Dillard said this was the correct time to seek the moratorium to allow residents to develop land-use ordinances to regulate future development at the airport.

“There is no big boulder barreling toward Indiana Jones. This is the time for thoughtful review of ordinances,” Dillard said.

Select Board member Linda Post repeatedly asked those who support the moratorium what type of ordinance they would be developing during the six months, but no specific ordinance was mentioned by those in support of the moratorium.

Planning Board member Maria Devery questioned whether an ordinance can target one entity or if it could affect other commercial developments in town.

Planning Board member Russell Wolfertz said the town does not know what will come next at the airport. He said hangars keep growing at the airport like mushrooms.

The Planning Board had approved 23 hangars, eight in a first phase and 15 in the second phase. A group of residents appealed the 15 in the second phase, but the town’s appeals board would not hear the appeal, saying it was filed too late. Wexler said the residents were going to appeal that decision in court.

The ordinance is on the town meeting warrant after a group of citizens opposed to development at the airport submitted 119 signatures to the town in July. The town certified 114 signatures, more than the 91 required to place the matter on the town meeting warrant.

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 has received a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association questioning the legality of the ordinance.

“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,” attorney Garrett Corbin said in his opinion.

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 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, 2022 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.