OWLS HEAD — Residents approved a six-month moratorium on airport construction at the annual town meeting on Tuesday evening.

The vote was 74-61 following debate on the final article of the Aug. 29 town meeting.

The goal of the moratorium, according to the supporters of the ordinance, said the six month halt in new projects at the airport as a group works to craft new land-use laws to regulate future development at the airport.

But town officials warned that the moratorium could result in legal challenges that will cost taxpayers. The impact on already approved project is uncertain.

Resident David White said there was no emergency that requires a moratorium. He said the moratorium was a really bad idea. He said if there are people who believe ordinances are needed to regulate the airport, they should come forward and propose those laws.

Lauren Dillard said the moratorium would give the town time to put together ordinances. She likened the situation to a frog in a pot of water which does not detect when the heat rises until it is too late to save itself.

Select Board Chair Gordon Page said much of the language in the proposed moratorium was speculative. He said the projects put forth by the airport have been approved by the Owls Head Planning Board. He urged people to reject the moratorium saying it is splitting the town and will cost the town money in legal fees when challenges are filed by the county.

Select Board member Linda Post reiterated her point that the moratorium supporters have not said what specific ordinances would be proposed during the six-month halt in any work at the airport.

Select Board member Tom Von Malder said that a moratorium was not needed to develop ordinances and that the group could have used the past few months to develop them.

Lynn Chaplin said one ordinance could regulate touch and go landings by corporate jets, requiring some of the airport fees to go to the town, and to restrict large planes.

The Planning Board has 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 last week 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.

Election of town officials

Newly elected RSU 13 Board member Sarah Post.

Residents elected Sarah Post to represent Owls Head on the Regional School Unit 13 Board. Post bested incumbent Maria Devery by a 91 to 38 vote. Devery had been appointed by the Owls Head Select Board in November 2021 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Susan Allen Thomas.

The term is for one year.

Post works at an engineering firm and has lived in Owls Head for 22 years. She has a 15-year-old son who has gone through the RSU 13 schools. She said she has worked closely with local educational groups.

The town has one member on the 10-member board.

Linda Post was uncontested for another three-year term on the Select Board. Post has been on the Select Board since 2005.

Budget sails to passage

Residents overwhelmingly approved each article of the 2022-2023 municipal budget which totaled $1,186,688. This represents about a 7 percent increase from the 2021-2022 budget of $1.1 million.

The largest account is public works which was approved at $586,322. This includes repairs to town roads, snow removal, and solid waste expenses. The budget is up 7.4 percent. Budget Committee Chair Robert Hirsch said skyrocketing costs of asphalt was behind the increase.

The general government budget was approved at $350,251. This was down about 1 percent. Legal expenses within that account is up 93 percent – for a total of $10,000 – as the town prepares for potential litigation over the airport and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over floodplain issues for waterfront homes.

The public safety budget was approved at $230,865, up 5.7 percent. This includes $108,909 for emergency medical services which is contracted with Rockland. All 84 of the town’s streetlights have been replaced with energy efficient LED lighting, saving 24 percent on electrical costs.

An unclassified account was approved at $5,500. This includes $3,000 for the library, up from $1,000 from last year.

Residents approved using $105,865 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act for a variety of projects such as harbor floats, fire department building repair, community building roof work, and a new boiler for the community room.

Voters also approved spending $11,000 for preliminary work to determine whether the town will buy the Owls Head Cemetery which the town now leases from Knox County. The cemetery is located south of Dublin Road and west of Ash Point Drive.

The residents also approved the town finalizing the acquisition of Cooper’s Cemetery off Oak Run.

After the annual town meeting, the Select Board acting as the Board of Assessors approved a new tax rate of $14 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. This is up 6 percent from the $13.20 last year. Much of the increase is due to more money owed to RSU 13.

The town is undergoing a revaluation with new property values to be in place for next year’s tax billing.

Selectboard Chair Gordon Page hugs former Town Clerk Susan Wilson after she was recognized by the town by having the annual report dedicated to her. Photo by Stephen Betts

The town honored Conservation Commission Chair Kathryn DerMarderosian with the Spirit of America Award. The presentation was made at the annual town meeting on Aug. 29. Select Board member Linda Post reads a proclamation while moderator Frederick Newcomb watches. Photo by Stephen Betts

Turnout was so large for the second consecutive year that some residents had to sit outside the town community building. Photo by Stephen Betts

Fred Newcomb, standing, was elected moderator for the annual town meeting. Photo by Stephen Betts