Oxford County prepares for major improvements at airport

0
1211

By Leslie H. Dixon

OXFORD — County Commissioners have been awarded a $180,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant to update the county airport 13-year old Master Plan.

The award will allow Oxford County to open up its nearly $500,000 reserve fund to begin major improvements to the airport once the Master Plan update is completed in about a year.

“The Master Plan has to go first,”  County Administrator Scott Cole said Monday, July 25.

“Oxford County Airport is one of 25 general aviation airports in Maine. They all qualify for $150,000 a year in entitlement funding. You can pool it for four years. We have nearly one-half a million dollars in reserves [from the entitlement funding],” Cole said explaining the source of the Reserve Fund.

Cole said the county is currently finishing up requirements, such as having the documents reviewed by the county’s attorneys, to accept the grant by the Aug. 22 deadline. Once completed, the county will work with Richard Yarnold, president of Ballantine Aviation Consulting Services in Portland, to update the Master Plan.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires a Master Plan to be updated every 10 years. Oxford County Airport has not updated its plan in 13 years, Cole said.

The work will flesh out a number of future projects, such as the reconstruction the runway apron, motorizing the gate for cars (instead of the current and padlock system) and looking at perimeter fencing needs.

In addition to the needs to make some improvements to the airport, Cole said the lack of an updated Master Plan has also kept the airport from receiving some of the millions of dollars in federal money earmarked toward other Maine airports, including last month’s $550,000 award to Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg.

While work continues toward the updating the Master Plan, Cole and County Commissioners have been working to continue minimal operations at the local airport going.

“It’s a self-service operation,” said Cole.

Cole and County Commissioners met last week with about 20 people, largely owners of small planes, who either use the facility off Route 26 or wanted to hear more about it.

The meeting, held on Thursday, July 21, in the pilots’ lounge of the airport building at 97 Airport Road, covered a wide range of topics ranging from snow plowing the runway to lighting and parking. Cole categorized the meeting as “a good meeting.”

Cole said local money will probably be used for immediate issues, such as the repair of the hangar roof.

The 40,000-square-foot building has been largely unused and in disrepair since 2014 when County Commissioners evicted its sole tenant, Oxford Aviation, for violations of it lease conditions. Oxford Aviation was an airplane refurbishing business housed at the site.

Since then, options have been explored for reviving business possibilities in that location. A small portion is  currently being used by a local aviator who is working in the building in exchange for maintenance work.

In addition to a possible expansion of leasing space with the aviator, Cole said some space may be reserved to use as an airplane hangar for pilots who want to keep their planes out of the weather.

“There’s lots of potential if we can find the right combination,” he said of the building’s use.

Part of the Master Plan process will be used to evaluate the future building use.

“It’s the ticket to other improvements,” he said.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net