BELFAST — Belfast Municipal Airport was approved last month for over $600,000 in federal funding for a fuel farm, which will make it a more attractive destination for small planes to visit.

Currently there is no access to airplane fuel at the facility, Airport Manager Kenn Ortmann said. Once the fuel farm is installed, probably by this fall, planes will be able to fill up on 100 low lead fuel, a type that most planes can use.

Each year airports are allotted $150,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. If an airport does not use those funds, the FAA rolls them over for several years. The agency also allows airports to use each other’s unused funds for a given year, then pay each other back later.

Belfast has unused FAA funds saved from the last few years and is also borrowing Norridgewock and Caribou’s allotted funds from this year, which it will pay back from future allocations.

“Their schedule of projects allowed them to say ‘Well, we don’t need it this year, we’re going to need it next year, but we’ll let you borrow it for one year, then you give it to us,’” Ortmann said of the facilities from which Belfast is borrowing.

The project originally included a tank for jet fuel, but the airport did not get enough funds to install two types of fuel, he said. He is working with a Maine Department of Transportation aviation planner now to see if they can structure the project to get both fuel tanks.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge started preparing to apply for the funds before Ortmann was appointed manager in November 2019, Ortmann said. The application was submitted before the May 3 deadline and the approval was announced June 28.

One of the challenges in applying for the funds was how to determine the demand for fuel at the airport. Because the city had not previously offered fuel, it had no record of demand for it, he said. The slab being used for the fuel farm was installed by a private company that offered fuel several years ago, but the city has none of its own data regarding demand.

One jet owner who flies into the airport frequently bought his own truck to store fuel at the airport, which allowed the city to collect some data on fuel use, he said.

Juan Vallamizar of Hartford, Connecticut, who flies into Belfast sometimes for business, said a fuel farm could mean the difference between someone flying into Belfast instead of another town’s airport, which could have a positive economic impact. “An airport without fuel, people don’t come,” he said. “It’s actually a must for an airport to be viable … . It’s up to the town how much they want tourism, because if they want tourism they will give a really good (fuel) price to promote people coming.”

He said if the airport’s fuel is priced low enough it could draw pilots to Belfast in preference to other nearby airports with higher fuel prices.

Ortmann likened the lack of a fuel farm at the airport to a town with no gas stations. “Can you imagine the city of Belfast without a gas station, so that everybody that would come here has to bring their own fuel along in their vehicle or plan to stop someplace else?” he asked. “And if we get people stopping here, as opposed to someplace else, we get funding coming in.”

When the city initially put the project out to bid as a whole, it got no responses, Ortmann said. So he had to place each part of the project — the tanks, electrical work, a fuel spill containment system and some pavement painting — out to bid separately and still only received one bid each for the tanks and electrical work. He can do the pavement paint job, but still has to find someone to build the spill containment system.

The coronavirus created a situation in which other airports are doing similar improvements at the same time, creating a high construction demand, which also increases the prices for metal and lumber materials, he said.

The airport has also been allocated funds from three federal COVID-19 relief bills amounting to $51,000, Ortmann said. The city has submitted letters of acceptance to use $20,000 of the funds from the first bill and intends to submit letters of acceptance for the remaining funds from the other two bills.

The stimulus funds will be used for airport staffing and project reimbursement to help offset costs that would have been for by taxes, he said.