TRENTON — Plans for a floating pier next to the seaplane ramp at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport appear to be dead in the water.
Trenton officials have appealed to members of Maine’s congressional delegation to try to save the project by intervening with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has refused to endorse a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the town and the county, which owns the airport, for the construction and management of the pier.
The MOU has been revised several times over the past two years in response to FAA objections. The major remaining sticking point is a stipulation in the MOU that any fees collected at the seaplane ramp and floating pier would be used solely for maintaining and improving those facilities.
According to federal law and FAA policy, “airport revenue is not permitted to be used for non-airport operations,” Mary Walsh, manager of the FAA’s Airports Division, said in a letter to airport manager Brad Madeira in March. “Airport revenue may only be used for … supporting the airport’s aeronautical purposes.”
She said failure to comply with this could jeopardize the airport’s federal funding. That position was restated in May by Bryon Rakoff, then acting manager of the FAA’s Airports Division, in a letter to Madeira.
With that threat hanging over them, the Hancock County Commissioners decided to end their involvement in the project. According to the minutes of their June 2 meeting, Commissioner Steven Joy said that “if the town of Trenton wanted to pursue the project, it was up to them, but he did not want the airport manager to spend one more minute on this project.”
The commissioners had previously given Trenton $20,000 in Community Benefit Grant funds for the floating pier project. According to the June 2 meeting minutes, “Commissioner Joy stated that he would like to encourage the town of Trenton to send back the $20,000 to the county, and that he is done with this project.”
Commissioner Antonio Blasi favored making one more attempt to find a solution. But Commissioner Percy Brown agreed with Joy.
In late May, a few days before the county commissioner’s meeting, Trenton Board of Selectmen Chairman Fred Ehrlenbach wrote to Maine’s U.S. Senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, and to 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin asking them to “intervene and advocate for us” with the FAA.
Ehrlenbach noted in his letter that the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) supports the pier project and is holding up to $100,000 in federal Small Harbor Improvement Project grant funds for it.
In addition, Trenton residents voted to authorize spending $70,000 on the project. About $20,000 has been pledged by individuals and businesses.
Ehrlenbach noted that, while seaplanes use the airport’s seaplane ramp only occasionally, it is used on a daily basis by recreational boaters and private fishing vessels.
“In its current state, without a pier, the site is not as safe and secure as it could be for either pilots or boaters,” he told the lawmakers.
He said the proposed floating pier beside the ramp would have several benefits in addition to improved water access and safety.
“It will be important to our commercial boat builders, boat haulers and boat repair concerns,” he wrote. “It provides an opportunity to create a base for emergency access and egress to Mount Desert Island in the event that the Trenton Bridge is impassable, which has occurred several times in the past few years.”
Ehrlenbach pointed out that the FAA officials who have raised objections to the project have refused invitations to visit the site, have not discussed the project with representatives of Trenton or the MDOT and have never offered “constructive advice on how to proceed.”
“This important project is near death due to bureaucratic disinterest and self-imposed ignorance of the consequence to the community,” Ehrlenbach said in his letter to Maine’s members of Congress. “We ask that you intervene with FAA to insure that the facts are known to decision makers and that their decisions are based on actual applicable federal regulations and statutes.”
As of Tuesday, more than two months after Ehrlenbach sent the letters, he had received no response from the offices of Collins, King or Poliquin.
In addition to building the floating pier, Trenton and MDOT officials initially proposed developing a small park near the seaplane ramp, possibly including picnic tables, walking trails and a restroom. However, FAA officials objected to various parts of that plan, saying it was not in keeping with the airport’s primary, aeronautical purpose.