Ready for takeoff

The Franklin County State Airport, shown here, in this Messenger file photo, will be expanding.

SWANTON — Though the bond vote has not yet reached voters, the Missisquoi Valley School District — whose water and sewer line potentially could be extended to connect to the Franklin County State Airport — submitted a letter in support of extending their resources.

The sewer extension is one of two enormous projects at the Franklin County State Airport that could have major impacts on the region’s economy.

In a letter to Patrick Scheld, grants management specialist for the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, MVU Superintendent Julie Regimbal said the extension of the water and sewer lines would directly benefit the students of the area schools.

“This expansion would not only lead to significant economic development opportunities in our county, but we believe that it would allow our high school students to expand and enrich educational opportunities,” wrote Regimbal. “We know that authentic and engaging internships and apprenticeship programs lead to improved post secondary outcomes for students. As we recover from the COVID 19 pandemic our school is working to expand these work based learning opportunities. The proximity of Missisquoi Valley Union High School to the airport makes it an ideal site for a more formalized aeronautics mechanics internship and apprenticeship program. Given the high unemployment in our region, we are committed to strengthening any programs we can to give students the skills they need to give them access to specialized high paying jobs.”

The water and sewer lines are controlled by Swanton Village, but Village Manager Reggie Beliveau said the village was going to maintain the same rates for the project as any other municipal project.

“Swanton is not making any money off of this,” Beliveau said in an interview on Thursday. “The way we see this project, it is a benefit to the area, to Highgate and the surrounding communities.”

A bond vote will go to the voters of Highgate sometime this year to approve the money for the project, and Beliveau said he was confident that the project would pass.

“It’s just a good plan,” Beliveau said. “It’s our kids that are going to benefit from this, down the road.”

Highgate Selectboard Chair Sharon Bousquet said she was on the fence as to whether or not she thought the vote would pass, and that if it didn’t pass this time, it wouldn’t go away.

“It would help our grand list, which would lower our taxes (eventually),” Bousquet said. “I would think it would come up again. It’s certainly a project that is well worth pursuing. If we managed to find enough funding, we would have a lot greater support for it.”

On March 18, the Highgate Selectboard met with state legislators and officials to discuss funding to extend water and sewer lines from Missisquoi Valley High School to the airport, a project that would cost about $3.4 million.

The water and sewer project, according to airport manager Cliff Coy, is a necessity to support the second project — extension, revitalization and expansion of the airport.

Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, said the two separate but connected projects, once completed, would pave the way for drastic improvements to the community and Franklin County’s economic infrastructure, encouraging more business to move to Highgate and the surrounding area.

“Economic growth is good,” Parent said. “... Moving the water and sewer line that much closer — they have a couple of other manufacturing companies, and if water gets closer to those, they have the potential to expand. It’s a pretty minor investment to make for this opportunity for the town. The return on investment will be big.”

Improvements in that second project include runway reconstruction, widening the airport runway by 15 feet, runway and taxiway extension 1,001 feet to the south, all new lighting and electrical work, a new fence that will tie in the north end of the airport, six 60-by-60-foot hangers and three 60-by-80-foot hangers. According to Kyle Wells, Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) project manager for the Franklin County State Airport, the entire project is estimated to cost $8.5 million, and will be paid for via grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Wells said they’re already obtaining easements for 23 parcels of land around the airport, which Parent said is a strong indicator the parcels are intended for business development.

Currently, according to airport co-manager Kevin Dwyer, the airport operates using a non-potable water system and a single septic tank, which could limit the feasibility of some aspects of the project such as potential business development.

The water and sewer project has already secured $507,107 in grant funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission, and according to a table provided by Highgate Town Manager Heidi Britch-Valenta, three other sources are pending: $1 million capital investment allocation from AOT budget that is working its way through the legislature, $500,000 from the Vermont Community Development Program block implementation grant, and $1.7 million from the Economic Development Administration.

A bond vote for $507,107, which will happen this year, is necessary to secure the $1.7 million from the Economic Development Administration, Britch-Valenta said.

“We are excited at the prospect of partnering more intentionally with an expanded and vital Highgate Airport to improve job training and work placement opportunities for our students,” Regimbal wrote. “We appreciate your consideration of this grant proposal and your attention to this matter.”

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