2017-03-23 / Front Page

Airport to negotiate with residents

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Biddeford airport commission approved a $223,850 contract with a firm to help gain access to prune trees at the north end of the airport’s only runway.

The goal of the easement acquisition project is to attain access to private properties that surround runway 24 so obstructive trees on those properties can be “topped” – a practice that removes whole tops or large branches from trees – or removed for pilot safety when ascending or landing.

The contract was approved unanimously, with commission members Dean Tourigny, Rick Laverriere and Roland Pelletier absent.

Gale’s Associates, Inc. is a 100-person Bedford, New Hampshire-based consulting firm composed of building experts, architects, engineers and planners who specialize in the repair, renovation and reuse of existing buildings, sites and infrastructures, according to its website. The firm also provides consulting and design services to private and public sectors.

Now that the contract has been approved, Gale’s can move forward with work. The $223,850 contract is a figure based on work that may need to be done, rather than what it will actually cost for Gale’s work, airport manager Kris Reynolds said.

Reynolds said work will begin with meetings with property owners near the end of runway 24 who have trees that could be considered obstructive to aircrafts. The hope is to acquire rights to access properties now and for the future to ensure the runway meets Federal Aviation Administration standards by topping or removing obstructive trees. Some species of trees die if a significant part is removed, so that will be examined for the sake of the property owners, Reynolds said.

“We want to be good neighbors and make sure everything we’re doing is in the best interest of the city and the best interest of pilots flying in,” Reynolds said. “No one will be on anyone’s property ahead of time and we will let them know what processes will take place.”

Reynolds said he wasn’t sure about the exact number of properties that could be affected. The properties are chiefly in the Granite Street Extension and Breton Street areas.

The airport commission will give property owners a written offer for the right to enter their property for tree topping or removal, he said. To gain rights for the city to enter personal property, purchase easements and top or remove trees, the property owner needs to be reimbursed, Reynolds said. The easement is the heir right, and this is what property owners would be compensated for.

Gale’s will go through all specifications to ensure the airport is in accordance with laws and permitting, Reynolds said, and collect the scope of work that needs to be done. It will conduct surveys and appraisals to determine whether trees need to be topped or removed, and to determine the value of the trees, if any. Every property could be different. Trees will be topped off or removed at a later date by a separate contractor under a bid, but discussions with property owners is expected to begin sometime this week or next week.

In the past, Reynolds said, the airport had to have trees removed on the runway’s south end, and the value of the timber needed to de determined so the tree’s property owner could be compensated.

Matt Caron, senior airport planner of Gale’s Associates, said the project will be funded by the city until a grant application can be submitted, which is anticipated to be on or after Oct. 1, coinciding with the beginning of the Federal Aviation Administration 2018 fiscal year. He said Gale’s will not enter any property that belongs to Biddeford property owners unless approved by the property owner.

The airport commission’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at Biddeford City Hall.

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