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Knox County airport moves ahead with building projects

$2 million spent, $16 million more in the works
By Stephen Betts | Feb 11, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Owls Head — Knox County is moving ahead with millions of dollars in projects to be paid for with the massive federal grants received last year.

The projects include replacing an existing crew house with a new building that will house both Penobscot Island Air pilots, while also offering a place for maintenance workers to stay during extended snowstorms; a terminal hangar to handle passengers and freight for the Knox County islands; and a solar farm.

In March 2020, the Knox County airport was notified it would receive $18 million in CARES Act funding, which was designed by the federal government to offer economic stimulus to communities. That amount was more than the largest airports in Maine received from the Federal Aviation Administration as part of the bailout program.

Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw said Feb. 10 of the original $2,067,000 grant amount, there is $13,000 remaining. The majority of the remaining $15.9 million in grants will be spent this construction season

The County owns a building at 10 Benner Lane that was formerly the airport manager's residence. The building has been leased for years to Penobscot Island Air to house pilots. With the award of the CARES Act funding, the county decided to replace the building with a joint-use facility to house both pilots and airport maintenance personnel, in the event of an extended duration snow event.

The new building will be built in the same footprint of the structure that will be torn down. The new facility will have six bedrooms, three bathrooms and separate entrances for the two uses.

The manager said during one meeting, there was an idea of also using the facility to provide island emergency medical service personnel with overnight accommodations if they were not able to return to the islands.

"Those discussions are still ongoing about the feasibility of that alternative, but it is certainly being explored,"  Shaw said.

Construction is expected to begin in the late spring or early summer.

This project was among a list of projects approved in May 2020 by both the County Commissioners and the Airport Public Advisory Committee.

Other projects on the list were construction of the terminal hanger for freight and passenger service for the islands.

Nickerson and O'Day of Brewer was hired as the construction manager for the project. Local permitting has been approved and construction is expected to begin in the spring.

The building will be about 100-feet-by-100 feet.

The solar farm is still in the development phase both for size and location, Shaw said. The original project called for 16,000 to 17,000 solar panels on 30 acres of a 55-acre parcel owned by the county. The proposed solar farm was to be located on Knox County property located from Route 73 near Frankie's Garage to the back of the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

Complications due to potential vernal pools on the original location selected by the airport have arisen, Shaw said. He said the county is working with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to find an acceptable compromise.

The airport manager said the county needs to wait until April to determine if there are vernal pools on the property. If there are not, the project would move forward. If there are, there needs to be 250 feet of buffer which could make the land not feasible for the solar farm.

The plan is for the solar farm to produce between two to five megawatt of electricity that would offset the airport's electrical costs and offer community solar options to municipalities in Knox County. That would generate additional revenues for the airport.

Other projects to be done with the grant money are security and gate improvements; removal of trees; paving; heating, ventilation and cooling replacement at the terminal; an information technology upgrade at the terminal, which would include the creation of a HUB server and additional GIS resources the Knox County Emergency Management Agency can use; purchasing a compact track loader, mowing tractor and compact excavator for the maintenance department; resurface one of the runways, converting the airfield lighting to LED; drainage improvements and resurfacing different areas.

If the solar farm does not go forward, that would free up $10 million.

The grant money must be used by March 2024.

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