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Accusations fly as airport vote nears

By Stephen Betts | Nov 24, 2020

Owls Head — The chief opponent to the proposed new interlocal agreement between Knox County and Owls Head, concerning future airport growth, is vying for a piece of land adjacent to the airport that Knox County also covets.

Owls Head voters will decide Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. at the municipal building community room whether to approve the new interlocal agreement.

A group of residents are also circulating a petition to postpone a vote, saying more time is needed to vet the proposed pact.

Opponents argue the new agreement would take away the town's ability to regulate growth at the airport. The county maintains the Federal Aviation Administration will not accept the older agreement any longer because it restricts the FAA's ability to manage needed improvements at the airport.

The attorney hired by the town informed municipal officials last month that the town is limited in its ability to regulate the airport.

Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw confirmed that Jared Schmelzer and his wife, Lauren Swartzbaugh, met with him Nov. 2 to discuss the relationship between the town and the airport.

Swartzbaugh serves on both the town's airport committee and its conservation commission. The manager said he assumed the meeting was concerning a proposed walking trail around the airport because she was part of a tour of the perimeter of the airport property on behalf of the conservation commission.

Instead, the couple wanted to talk about their interest in acquiring a parcel at the end of Benner Lane owned by the Owls Head Transportation Museum. The parcel is about 1.5 acres with hangars on it and valued by the town at about $371,000.

Shaw said the museum’s property on Benner Lane is within the airport’s perimeter fence.

"Where it is an existing aviation use, both property and hangars are attractive to the airport," Shaw said.

Shaw said Schmelzer stated his interest in the Benner Lane property, and mentioned that he approached the museum to discuss the possibility of purchasing it. Shaw said Schmelzer offered an arrangement that if the airport were to help them acquire the property, they would, in turn, assist the airport with public relations that locals frequently oppose airport projects and the interlocal agreement.

The airport manager said when he noted why the property would be valuable to the county airport, Schmelzer said the county would face lawsuits if it tried to acquire the land.

Schmelzer acknowledged he had meetings concerning the Benner Lane property.

"There were meetings regarding that property and info given to me during those meetings that was and is now directly related to what is happening with the airport and the rush to change the Interlocal Agreement. There were at least three meetings that discussed that property located in Owls Head. Please read the current Interlocal Agreement and consider why the County wants to purchase this property," Schmelzer said in an email response.

"There are probably a few people by now who may be trying to discredit me by making comments in a way that attempts to mask what is happening and to deflect from their actions or responsibilities in the matter," he said.

Schmelzer claimed the airport manager made an offer to the museum to buy the property and that doing this in a "back room manner" violates terms of the current interlocal agreement by not consulting with the town in expanding the airport.

The airport manager said Schmelzer's claim was false.

"The insinuation that the airport manager can unilaterally spend any county resources without the vetting and approval from the County’s Airport Public Advisory Committee, the County Administrator, the Knox County Commissioners and the Federal Aviation Administration, highlights how misguided Mr. Schmelzer’s accusations are. The discussions with the Owls Head Transportation Museum, were in fact, discussions only," Shaw said.

The current interlocal agreement was approved by the town and county in 2001 and expires June 1.

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.

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Comments (12)
Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 02, 2021 20:33

Is there some type of smell emanating from the smoke rising over the offer to socially convince owls head folks to agree to this one sided deal to further polish off any concern that this might just not be an arm's length, good thing for said folks that I have a feeling are being blindsided, hoodwinked, short-sheeted, and covered with chemtrail dust.

Posted by: JARED SCHMELZER | Jan 02, 2021 17:09

The Interlocal Agreement is preset to renew June, 1 2021, was designed to automatically renew.

ONLY BY MUTUAL CONSENT can the Interlocal Agreement be altered or terminated before renewal.  (A notice to terminate is not by mutual consent, the notice alone does not satisfy the stipulations of the legal Agreement.)  The County will be making up every excuse including safety to not let the Interlocal Agreement stand, which completely violates the sanctity of a legal Agreement and is a shameful display of government.

Owls Head residents need the Interlocal Agreement now more than ever, exactly for the reason and purpose it was designed.  Meanwhile the County has been trying to alter it While receiving huge sums of federal funding for an Airport that has been, and still is, in a binding legal agreement (that was designed to renew automatically) to restrict growth and provide mutual regulation to the Town of Owls Head - that the County has not honored.  Now was this an accident, oversight, or,....?

Why have the Selectboard and County representatives been telling and actively working to convince residents and the greater public that the binding legal Agreement has to be terminated or altered?

(The Agreement can easily renew as it was designed to, there is no need to create a “renewal” agreement,...which would be deceptive especially if the purpose was reversed and nobody knew until they read both agreements side by side.)

Why do the County officials not give direct testimony but have lawyers and advisors speak who are not elected officials and still don’t provide clear and direct answers for the record?

Doesn’t the Selectboard Administer, Enforce, and Carry Out on behalf of the Towns people?  Or does the Selectboard carry out on behalf of the County regardless of the Town’s people want?

What did, or what does the Selectboard get for not supporting the Town residents and not enforcing the legal Agreement as intended and as it is their duty?

How much Federal Funding has the County received through the Airport and what has that funding already been spent on?

If the Airport has been in violation of compliance requirements and grant assurances then how was the Airport eligible and repeatedly certified to receive Federal funding, let alone the additional CARES Act federal funding?

It seems that the Airport and Knox County were not eligible to apply for, nor to be granted, these huge sums of federal funding.  The recent CARES Act funding was intended for emergency Covid relief - not airport projects that are illegal even under the Interlocal Agreement.

Posted by: Connie Beal | Nov 25, 2020 09:36

How does an Owls Head resident stop this vote? There is an awful lot on the line. There should be another meeting where all residents can attend.


Posted by: Connie Beal | Nov 25, 2020 09:35

How does an Owls Head resident stop this vote? There is an awful lot on the line. There should be another meeting where all residents can attend.


Posted by: Gayle Murphy | Nov 25, 2020 07:43

Hopefully someone is making arrangements for a MUCH larger space to conduct this special meeting.


John Murphy

Posted by: JARED SCHMELZER | Nov 25, 2020 07:33

In addition to my comments below, the Town attorney should understand the following;

The FAA does not have legal authority to control or direct the terms of any Agreement between a Town and the County.

The FAA can accept or reject in theory but they have no authority over a Town nor the County to make the Town or the County do anything.

I read the out of context legal research the attorney provided to the Selectboard from Benjamin T. McCall, Esp. , and it neither speaks specifically to the situation of Owls Head, nor does it defeat the above, that the FAA does not control or direct the County or the Town.

Show the town specific and exact language on this particular matter, not references to other matters that are significantly different matters.

This behavior acts to convince people they can not fight what the County or FAA would like to do.  Owls Head has rights, and is NOT subject to the FAA legally nor is the County despite being an airport sponsor.

Even if the County entered into any agreements it was still under and during the Interlocal Agreement.


Posted by: JARED SCHMELZER | Nov 25, 2020 07:01

I am not fighting for Owls Head in order to not compete with the County to purchase Benner Lane. That’€™s untrue.

I did not have any plans before or after viewing the property as the County does for Benner Lane, however I discovered a lot about the County and its intentions to expand the Airport despite a legal agreement.  This article portrays a serious misrepresentation of the events mentioned.  Further, I informed a member of the Owls Head Selectboard after I learned of the hypocrisy and then met with the Airport Manager to understand more before getting involved to help inform Owls Head residents.

Attempts to discredit me are expected, and I answer questions unlike the County and those in the Town of Owls Head who refuse to provide information to the public as requested.

I offered no €œarrangement€ whatsoever and I told Jeremy Shaw he’€™s not supposed to purchase private property to expand the airport under the Interlocal Agreement.  He seemed to know that.  Anyone who knows my wife will know his insinuations are false, we both have a lot of other and much happier things to do, and we speak the truth.

Benner Lane may or may not be worth what the Airport Manager and County are willing to pay in order to expand the airport and then lease back part or all of that property to recover the expenses.  Further, as free citizen I can view and consider any private property because I am not in a binding legal agreement to not do so and I am not using tax payer money to purchase private property.  Any potential business with the Benner Lane property would be subject to the Town, not so if it becomes County property considering the proposed changes to the Agreement. If the County intends to use taxpayer money, or grant funding to purchase Owls Head property, it would obviously be in breach by expanding the airport.

My wife was diligently working as a member of the Owls Head airport committee, as well as the Conservation committee, in supporting the Town in an Agreement to NOT EXPAND the airport along with the Airport Manager.  Meanwhile the Airport Manager was already in talks to purchase private property and expand the airport. That’s disingenuous to say the least and understandably he’€™s now uncomfortable.  This was the hypocrisy that helped me decide to inform our residents.  Further the County is delayed in releasing public information requested on these matters.

After I was shown the property and learned about what was happening,... My wife and I reached out to the Airport Manager immediately after, we asked for the meeting to understand what was happening and being planned.  We also expressed to Jeremy Shaw during our meeting that we understood that the County is not to be expanding and purchasing private land under the Interlocal Agreement. We had also met with a Selectboard member just days prior to that meeting with the Airport Manager, to inform the Selectboard member on what might be occurring, along with the proposed changes to the Agreement.  Nobody seemed to care.

Why should anyone care if the County is in breach and wants to expand the Airport regardless of what the residents want?

This certainly is not about Benner Lane.  It’s about process and transparency.

Had I not seen that property I would probably be less aware of how many interests were planning on the Interlocal Agreement being completely changed.  That goes against Owls Head and the Agreement itself.  These people don’€™t want the residents involved in their plans.  Except their plans are supposed to be PUBLIC and make use of taxpayer funds!  The changes proposed to the Agreement remove Owls Head from regulating expansion and give permission for more of this behind closed doors.

This is happening all before any Town meeting, or voting by residents on the matter.  If Owls Head does not hold the County accountable through enforcement, more will happen in Owls Head without the say of the Town residents.

Do you actually think I a€™m going through all this trouble on my time for Benner Lane?  Think again.

Jared Schmelzer

Posted by: Paul Rosen | Nov 24, 2020 15:58

Facts matter, and the fact that you fact-checked this fact is, in fact, what honest reporting is all about.  Thank you for that.


Posted by: Stephen Betts | Nov 24, 2020 12:49

The manager is quoted in the article and Mr. Schmelzer confirmed his interest when I contacted him.

Posted by: Paul Rosen | Nov 24, 2020 12:36

No problem, thanks.  Question though; did the "chief opponent" tell you they were "vying for a piece of land...that Knox County also covets"?  Or did it come to you second hand?  Thanks, again.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Nov 24, 2020 12:22

Sorry, I wrote the article. Just simply forget to hit the button for my byline.

Posted by: Paul Rosen | Nov 24, 2020 12:01

I find it interesting that such a controversial article has no by-line.  Would the author please let us know who you are.  Thanks.

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