The city is spending about $7,700 to complete two studies — a runway operational enhancement analysis and an obstruction survey — at the Belfast Municipal Airport.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge explained to councilors Tuesday, April 2, that the operational enhancement analysis will help the city identify ways to improve the existing runway to potentially accommodate larger, corporate jets.

Kittredge noted the study would also help the city to determine future aviation demand on the airport and whether extending improvements, such as extending the runway by 1,000 feet, would be justified.

He stressed, however, that the study is not addressing how to build a runway or extend the runway.

The total cost of the study is $38,600, of which the Federal Avaiation Administration will pay 90 percent. The city picks up 5 percent of the cost, or $1,930, with the state paying the remaining 5 percent.

Councilor Roger Lee asked if the city’s portion of the bill is being paid using taxpayer dollars or it comes from a different source. Kittredge said the funding does come from taxpayer dollars but the money is taken from the airport’s capital reserve account, which has a balance of $115,894.

City Manager Joseph Slocum commented that the runway operational enhancement analysis must be completed if the city ever chooses to extend the airport’s runway because the Federal Aviation Administration would pay 90 percent of the costs.

Kittredge noted the runway analysis could come back to the city and conclude that a runway extension is needed, or it could state that such an extension is not justified. If it is determined an extension is justified, Kittredge said the city could apply for a discretionary grant to get funding for the project.

Councilor Mike Hurley then questioned where a 1,000-foot extension would end if it were headed towards Lincolnville Avenue. Lee responded by joking “right about third base.” Kittredge said the study wouldn’t really address the location of the runway, but he did acknowledge that such an extension would have to take into consideration wetlands and a steep drop off near the Lincolnville Avenue portion of the airport.

He continued by summarizing that the runway study is essentially an analysis to determine if the cost of extending the runway would be justified.

Before discussion ended, Councilor Eric Sanders said he would abstain from voting on the funding request because he works for athenahealth and the company would like to be able to land one of their larger jets at the airport. He continued by commenting that he wouldn’t support a proposal that resulted in the runway encroaching on the existing baseball fields.

The funding request was approved 4-0 with Sanders abstaining.

Obstruction survey

Kittredge requested $5,825 to conduct an obstruction survey and analysis at the airport to address potential problem trees near the runway that could impact future access to the airport. He explained that the Federal Aviation Administration informed the city it could not proceed with any revenue generating projects, such as the proposed fuel farm, until the obstructions are removed.

The total cost of the survey is $116,500 and Kittredge noted the $5,825 request is on the “high end” to ensure the city allocates enough money for its 5 percent match. He acknowledged that the city’s portion could decrease if the cost of the survey ends up being cheaper than anticipated.

Belfast’s aviation consultant Airport Solutions Group would conduct the study, which would include an aerial survey; submission of data to the Airports Geographic Information System; analysis of tree top data collected from the survey; Maine Department of Environmental Protection permitting; wetland delineation; vernal pool assessment; and an environmental assessment.

Councilor Roger Lee clarified that approving the money for the survey would not mean the city is approving the removal of any trees. Kittredge verified Lee’s statement and said any tree removal would be brought before the council at a future date.

Funding for the survey was approved unanimously.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.