Published in the Current and the American Journal
The South Portland City Council ruled Monday that the Portland International Jetport may expand, but may not truck fuel through the Red Bank neighborhood to get to a planned storage site.
The jetport’s proposal is to relocate private planes based at the jetport from one side of the main runway to the other, offering them space for hangar storage and opening more room for storage of planes only visiting the jetport for short periods.
Presently the roughly 60 private aircraft based at the jetport are parked on a paved area on the north side of the main airport buildings, according to Jeff Monroe, transportation director for the city of Portland. That location is also where visiting planes park, and it’s running out of room.
“We get a lot of people flying in over the summer,” Monroe said. As many as 30 to 40 planes a week are brought in by people who either own or rent vacation homes in Maine, he said.
The jetport wants to use a portion of a 70-acre parcel between the Red Bank neighborhood and the Fore River to allow plane owners to build hangars for indoor aircraft storage. As part of that complex, there would be at least three above-ground fuel tanks holding a total of 60,000 gallons of aviation gas and jet fuel.
To supply the tanks, the jetport had asked for permission to drive small fuel trucks along Western Avenue and Westbrook Street to get to the new area, at least until the planned Jetport Plaza Road is complete.
If that road is not complete by the time the complex is in use, the jetport argued, the only alternative would be to truck fuel across the airport’s main runway.
District Five Councilor Jim Hughes, who represents the area including the jetport and the Red Bank neighborhood, was worried about putting fuel trucks through a densely populated area and successfully lobbied his fellow councilors to limit fuel trucks to the Jetport Plaza Road.
While a timetable for the road’s completion is unclear – it is now just a short spur leading to the parking lot near the Staples store – councilors were confident that the road would be complete before the jetport space was ready. Hughes said the restriction would virtually ensure the road was built in time.
Mayor and District Three Councilor Ralph Baxter said his “worst-case scenario” was trucking fuel across the main runway.
Councilor-at-large Linda Boudreau was also worried about the dangers that could pose, mixing fast-moving aircraft with fuel trucks.
Hughes argued that limiting fuel trucks puts pressure on Portland, which must grant an easement for Jetport Plaza Road before it can be built. He said the restriction would not only improve safety but would bring the political interests of the two cities into alignment to get the road built.
District Two Councilor Thomas Maietta suggested that if the road was not complete, the private planes could taxi from the new space back to the present fueling point, keeping fuel out of the neighborhood and preserving airport safety.
In other airport business, Boudreau also noted that the next meeting of the jetport noise advisory group will be held Sept. 24. A report will be issued before that, and the meeting will discuss the report, she said.