FRYEBURG, Maine — According to the executive committee of the Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg, the airport has acquired the funding it needs to build a new jet aircraft hangar.
The announcement was made during Tuesday's Conway selectmen's meeting when Selectman Carl Thibodeau, who also serves as vice chair of the airport authority, brought it up under selectmen's updates.
"After four years of trying to get this off the ground, we finally received our EDA (U.S. Economic Development Administration) grant in writing $1.2 million," said Thibodeau.
"It's been a long haul," he said, adding, "We will be going to bid some time this winter, with a groundbreaking scheduled for spring as soon as the new frost is out," he said.
The hangar would be built on the north side of the aircraft apron facing south.
The total estimated cost of the 10,000-square-foot "transient" hangar project is about $2.1 million, but that could change depending on the price of materials and such, said Thibodeau.
"This hanger at $2.12 million is fully financed," said Thibodeau, adding that the final approval from the EDA came during the week of Sept. 30.
The airport also got $500,000 from Northern Border Regional Commission a few years ago. Half came from New Hampshire's allotment and the other half from Maine.
Three years worth of grant funding from the Federal Aviation Administration totaling $450,000 had been saved up and put toward the hangar.
New Hampshire and Maine Departments of Transportation have kicked in a combined $150,000.
Asked for comment, Eric Meltzer of Fryeburg, the pilots' representative on the executive committee, said, "Considering this project is squarely in Maine but serves the entire Mount Washington Valley, it's certainly a vote of confidence from both neighboring states to commit these funds to the Eastern Slope Regional Airport for this project."
The new hangar will allow small business jets to stay overnight, especially in times of inclement weather.
"Various times throughout the year, (pilots) are extremely reluctant to come up here in their small jets," said Thibodeau, adding that the jets he was discussing are the kind that can seat up to 12 passengers that corporations use to fly their executives around.
Thibodeau also said potential airport clients the authority has interacted with in the past said they were "reluctant" to have their multimillion-dollar planes sitting outside overnight.
"This will give them the level of security that they need to be comfortable coming up here," said Thibodeau.
For example, he said a Canadian helicopter rescue team that decided not to use the Fryeburg airport because they would have needed 24-hour security for their aircraft have already committed to coming in 2021 when the hangar is built.
"That's a big, big thing for this airport," he said.
The Canadian helicopter group would come with two 20-passenger copters. The crew would likely buy 30,000 gallons of jet fuel from the airport over a two-week period.
"That is a lot of jet fuel," said Thibodeau. "That is a lot of revenue for the airport.
"These are things that we took into consideration all through the whole planning process, and this is the reasoning behind wanting to build this transient hanger in the first place. This is the door opening to turn this airport into a true regional airport for the benefit of everyone," he said.
At the 2018 Fryeburg Town Meeting, residents passed Article 32, which allowed selectmen to enter into a 40-year lease with the airport authority for the purpose of building a the hangar.
In 2017, voters had struck down an article that would have allowed Nestle to build a bottling plant on airport land.
In a phone interview Thursday, airport treasurer Gene Bergoffen, who is an authority executive committee member/treasurer, said a 40-year lease was necessary to secure "loan authority" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He likened it to a line of credit. He said the loan would only be taken out if needed.
At the 2018 town meeting, then town manager Sharon Jackson said if the airport failed to repay the loan and defaulted, USDA would take custody of the hangar.
“The town would not be held liable to pay the loan for that hangar,” she said.
The lease article appeared to pass by a large margin; only 10 or 12 hands were raised in opposition.
In late 2017, Steve Bender of Lovell was a member of the airport authority. Bender was critical of the bottling plant proposal as well as the hangar project. He resigned early last year. He is still a hangar owner at the airport.
Reached Thursday, he said the FAA money should have been directed to maintenance of the asphalt.
The airport authority reorganized itself after Bender left, but Bender said there are still problems with getting information out of the authority.