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Regional airport supported at Maine town meetingRegional airport supported at Maine town meeting

A New England airport that helps drive a two-state regional economic engine received a key vote of support for a development project from its host community on June 14.

Eastern Slope Regional Airport. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

Eastern Slope Regional Airport—the name suggests the airport’s location relative to the scenic White Mountains—is located in Fryeburg, Maine, just across the state line from New Hampshire.

The airport also lies just a few miles from the popular tourist destinations of North Conway, New Hampshire, and the Mount Washington Valley, and the airport’s nickname, “Runway to the White Mountains,” stresses the connection to those regional assets.

Advocating for giving the airport new tools to expand its role as a regional economic player came front and center at the June 14 Fryeburg town meeting, as local officials urged about 125 voters in attendance to pass two measures to benefit the airport: a $15,000 annual operations and maintenance appropriation, and a 40-year lease of a third-of-an-acre land parcel on which the airport authority plans to build a state- and federal grant-funded hangar for transient aircraft.

Both measures passed following a no-holds-barred debate, said AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins, who attended the session in support of the local airport advocates.

“Eastern Slope Regional Airport is unusual for having managed to acquire annual funding from not only the host town of Fryeburg, but from neighboring communities in New Hampshire such as Conway, North Conway, and others,” he said. “Even the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has matched a $75,000 Maine grant that will be applied toward the hangar project—all of which speaks to the importance of the airport across the western Maine-eastern New Hampshire region.”

New England town meetings are known for their active citizen participation, and the session in Fryeburg followed that script, with some residents demanding assurance that the hangar project had no connection to other issues unrelated to aviation with which the town has wrestled, Collins said.

Several local officials addressed the inquiries from the gathering before the final vote.

Sharon Jackson, Fryeburg’s town manager, “responded to an array of questions, carefully separating fiction from fact and keeping folks focused on the issues at hand,” Collins said. 

Kimberly Clarke, a member of the Fryeburg select board, gave examples of revenue opportunities lost in the past and explained how the proposed development could reverse that trend.

At the conclusion, the officials’ statements were met with “clapping and cheers, and affirmative vote on the 40-year property lease for the hangar site,” Collins said.

“It is great to be able to participate in events like this,” he added. “They serve as remarkable examples of democracy in action at the local level. In the end, it was a rewarding thing to see as the overwhelming majority of residents in attendance gave support to their airport, reinforcing the idea of a true community airport.”

Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Economic Impact

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