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South Portland Planning Board OKs zone change for Jetport expansion

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South Portland Planning Board OKs zone change for Jetport expansion

Maine Aviation project to break ground this summer, too

SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously approved zone changes for an expansion of the Portland International Jetport.

The changes, which must still be addressed by the City Council, would redesignate farm land as light industrial and allow several aviation-specific uses. Those uses include the delivery, storage and recovery of propylene glycol, the fluid used to de-ice aircraft.

Jetport Operations Director Artie Sewell said the de-icing facility is one of five projects outlined in the Jetport's five-year capital improvement plan. However, the airport is looking to fast-track the zone changes so it can receive $2.5 million in federal stimulus funding for a de-icing pad, which is mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Planning Director Tex Haeuser said the Jetport hopes to have its site plans reviewed by the Planning Board by the second week of April, assuming the City Council approves the zone changes.

Sewell said the Jetport expects to receive the necessary permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in late May. To receive stimulus fund, the project needs to be shovel-ready by June 1. The de-icing facility would be finished in the fall, he said.

Haeuser said only 72 acres of the 411 acres of jetport property in South Portland are zoned light industrial. Most of the remaining 339 acres are zoned as rural farmland, and some is zoned general commercial.

In response to board inquiries about why the rural farm zone had not previously been changed to light industrial, Haeuser said previous planners simply rezoned only the areas that were being developed at the time. The rural farm zone was left over from when the Maine Mall area was farmland. 

"When I came here, and in the years since, I have never picked up any hints that there was any intent and purpose for leaving it a (rural farm zone)," Haeuser said. "... There wasn't any pressing need to change it." 

Dwight Anderson, senior engineer at Deluca-Hoffman Associates, said the Jetport also plans to expand its runways, add aircraft taxi lanes and widen existing runways to allow for better snow removal. To extend the runways, he said, the Jetport will have to relocate its perimeter road, which would require filling 11.5 acres of wetlands. 

Haeuser said local trail groups have requested that the Jetport allow room for a hiking and biking trail that would span the perimeter of the complex, connecting the Long Creek trail and Interstate 295's Exit 4 to the Stroudwater neighborhood in Portland.

Mayor Tom Blake, a founder of the land trust, on Wednesday said the land considered for the expansion has been eyed for trails for years as part of the West End Trails Committee's master plan. While Jetport officials consider increased public access near the runway a security threat, Blake disagrees. 

"I believe the exact opposite," Blake said Wednesday. "If you put a trail there you will have free surveillance. People will be walking there with cell phones." 

At the Planning Board meeting, member Don Russell and with other board members also expressed a desire for the Jetport to work with local land groups. But Russell withheld comments for the upcoming site plan review. He also suggested he would like the airport to outline steps it is taking to address aircraft noise.

Board member Caroline Hendry also said she is concerned about noise. 

"In the summer when you have the windows open the noise is so insufferable," said Hendry, who lives in Knightville. "The planes are so low you can almost see aunt Louise in the window seat." 

Hendry said she is concerned that as much as 11.5 acres would be disturbed when and if the five-year plan is completed. "I guess that will have to wait for the site plan," she said.

The Jetport expansion one of two airport building projects expected to take place in South Portland over the coming years.

Maine Aviation Corp. is expected to begin building a fixed-base operating center in June for smaller aircraft, next to the Long Creek Youth Development Center. In January 2007, the board approved plans for up to five buildings, two hangers and fuel storage tanks, in addition to service aprons and taxi lanes.

Jim Iancono, MAC development director, said the new facility, which will offer charter service, flight lessons and aircraft sales and maintenance, is expected to open in early 2010. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.