People in the town of Trenton have every right to feel frustrated over the way in which their desire to have a small floating dock and tiny public picnic park at the seaplane ramp at the Hancock County Airport has been handled by multiple layers of government. The seaplane ramp is used only a handful of times each year by aircraft. It is used nearly every day by local marine interests. And, there is more than enough room for both.
Rightfully singled out for particular scorn are officials with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who refused to endorse a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the town and the county, which owns the airport. The county had allocated $20,000 for the project from a federal Community Benefit Grant (CBC).
Even the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) supported the project, and was reserving a Small Harbor Improvement Project (SHIP) grant to help pay for the facility.
As the good people and town officials in Trenton have sadly learned, when governmental acronyms start piling up, it is inevitable that matters get far more complicated, cost twice as much and take four times as long as they should.
The FAA’s refusal even to visit the site, or to consider the idea from the standpoint of how best to serve the public, is especially galling. One sticking point was that “airport revenue may only be used for supporting the airport’s aeronautical purpose.” The FAA threatened the airport with the potential loss of other key funding should fees, needed to help subsidize the launch ramp or proposed pier, not go to the airport. A particular irony is that the airport already is heavily supported by local and state dollars as well as dependent on federal funding.
In writing about the issue to members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, Fred Ehrlenbach, chairman of Trenton’s board of selectmen stated, “This important project is near death due to bureaucratic disinterest.” That’s putting it mildly. To date, none of the delegation have replied to the town’s plea for help in dealing with the entrenched federal bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, county commissioners are considering whether to rescind their portion of funding. The whole project could go belly-up.