By Abigail W. Adams
Airport manager Ervin Deck gives a tour of the Wiscasset Airport Dec. 13, and points out areas of concern highlighted in the airport master plan on Dec.
13. (Abigail Adams photo)
After four years and several revisions, the Wiscasset Airport Master Plan was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in October. The master plan, a long-term vision for
the airport, is fundamental to the airport receiving federal funds for needed capital improvement projects.
The master plan, however, highlighted several safety concerns that involve the airport’s neighbor, the Chewonki Campground. Those safety concerns are not limited to
the overgrowth of trees in areas designated as protected airspace.
They also include the location of campsites in an area designated as the Runway Protection Zone.
According to the FAA, areas of public assembly are prohibited in the Runway Protection Zone. Statistically, it is the area where airplanes are the most likely to
Until those safety concerns are addressed, the airport will not be eligible for federal funds, including funds needed to repave the airport runway.
“Nobody ever said anything about how this would affect us,” Pam Brackett, co-owner of Chewonki Campground, said about the Runway Protection Zone. “I had no idea
about this. Losing campsites would be devastating for us.”
The Chewonki Campground and the Wiscasset Municipal Airport opened in the same year. Pam Brackett and Ann Beck’s parents established the Chewonki Campground in 1961.
The airport also became operational in 1961.
Sisters and Chewonki Campground owners Pam Brackett (left) and Ann Beck stand in front of some prime campsites at the campground in Wiscasset Dec. 22.
(Abigail Adams photo)
Following their parents’ death in 1969, Brackett and Beck, ages 18 and 16, took over the family business. The campground, open from May to October, has 47 campsites on
approximately 50 acres. The property abuts the Montsweag Brook on one end and the Wiscasset airport on another.
“These problems could have been resolved if the town had paid attention to what they were doing 20 years ago,” Ervin Deck, Wiscasset’s airport manager, said. “The
problems were either neglected or ignored. They skipped the can down the road until now, in 2014-2015, they have to be fixed.”
Deck has served as the airport’s manager since 2008. He recently announced his resignation effective Jan. 31, 2015. Deck also works with Stantec, the infrastructure
consulting firm hired to help Wiscasset develop the airport’s master plan.
Deck has kept his work at Stantec separate from his work as airport manager. However, if Stantec’s contract with Wiscasset is renewed, he has offered to serve as
Stantec’s representative to the airport.
The Runway Protection Zone is a trapezoid swath of land that stretches 1,000 feet from the end of the airport runway. Land use in that area is restricted by the FAA.
Areas of public assembly are prohibited.
The airport master plan states, “a portion of Chewonki Campground is located within the RPZ to Runway 7. A campground is considered to be an incompatible use as this
creates a place for public assembly and a safety issue to people on the ground and pilots and passengers flying over the campground.”
“All we’ve been talking about is the trees,” Brackett said. “We haven’t been told anything about the campsites. We have no idea how many sites or which ones are
affected by this.”
In 1994, Chewonki Campground granted an easement to Wiscasset to maintain trees on their property for the airport. However, Brackett and Beck said Wiscasset never
made an effort to maintain the trees included in the easement.
“It’s never been clear to us who is responsible for clearing the trees,” Brackett said. “Is it us or is it the town? We really don’t know.” Brackett and Beck also
said the area contained in the easement has never been clearly marked on their property.
“(The town) got the easement but they never did anything with it,” Deck said. “I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Now the problems have gotten worse and
another easement is necessary for another part of the campground.”
The town has briefly discussed the possibility of an additional easement with Brackett and Beck. The sisters were under the impression the additional easement was
due to trees blocking protected airspace. They were unaware that the Runway Protection Zone was an issue.
Under Deck’s leadership, the airport has experienced a surge in business and revenue in recent years. However, the airport’s runway has not been repaved since 1968.
In August, the airport closed for emergency repairs to the runway that involved filling cracks.
Deck estimates that those repairs will only last for two to three years, at which time the runway will need to be repaved. The cost to repave the runway is estimated
at $1.2 million.
The FAA will cover 90 percent of those costs. However, federal funds will only be made available if the safety issues highlighted in the master plan are fixed.
Stantec examined different ways to remove the Runway Protection Zone from the campground, Deck said. The only other solution they could identify involved shifting
the runway in the other direction and restructuring Route 144. “Unfortunately the most economical and least environmentally invasive thing to do is to deal with the campground,”
The Chewonki Campground is a family tradition, not only for its owners, but also for its customers. Over 3,000 families vacation at the campground each year. Many
customers have been vacationing there since the 1960s. Their children and great-grandchildren now vacation there too.
Brackett and Beck have been asked several times to place plaques commemorating family members that have passed away at the campground because of how meaningful the
campground was to them.
The Wiscasset airport is part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, a list of airports identified as significant to national air transportation. “We
can’t just shut down,” Deck said. “You can’t just shut down an NPIAS airport.”
Shutting down a National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems airport without federal approval would have implications for all federal grants received by Wiscasset,
“There’s got to be another answer,” Beck said while walking the Chewonki Campground. “You can’t destroy one business for another.”
“Deep in my heart, I think there will be some kind of agreement that everyone will benefit from,” Deck said. “All I can do though is point out the problems and offer
suggestions. In the end, the town is going to have to make some tough decisions.”