Franklin County State Airport

Airplanes are parked in a row at Franklin County State Airport, which could be the site of a major economic development project.

SWANTON — Village officials say that if a vote to extend the water and sewer lines from Missisquoi Valley Union High School to the Franklin County Airport fails with the voters of Highgate, there’s a significant possibility that the village will use federal dollars to try to help.

“With a lot of the federal funds coming through for infrastructure upgrades and everything, the village would be interested in seeing what we could do to help with that expansion,” said Village Manager Reg Beliveau, referring to COVID-19 relief funds coming to the state from the American Recovery Plan.

The expansion of the airport, Beliveau said, would spill over opportunity onto the surrounding towns and community, Swanton Village included, which was one of the reasons why the village had a vested interest in the opportunity for water and sewer to be installed there.

“There’s a huge possibility here,” Beliveau said. “Not just for us, but for our grandkids. It’s all about planning for the future. You look for today, but you plan for five, 10 years down the road.”

The water and sewer lines technically lie in village limits, and Beliveau said that back when the new lines were installed in 2017 to replace an old waterline from the 1960s, they were installed in preparation for potential, eventual extension to the airport.

“There was always a conversation about the possibility of extending service,” Beliveau said. “Every time we’ve gone up there ... some of the businesses up there, there’s non-potable water ... so we put in a ‘T,’ so all they have to do now is tie right in and up you go.”

Prior to the installation, Beliveau said they installed a new transition line from the Swanton reservoir to the village, which was also fitted with a connection for MVU.

The airport currently utilizes a septic tank and runs on well water. Border Air Co-Owner Kevin Dwyer said that with the Federal Aviation Administration’s funding for the expansion of the airport slated to begin construction in 2023, increased capacity is needed.

According to FAA standards, every airport has to have a 20-year plan to grow to be able to suit the needs of new types of aircrafts, fluctuations in traffic, economic changes and commercial needs. Airport Manager Clifford Coy said plans are to expand even further to meet and cater to the growing economic desirability of the region.

The airport is currently 350 acres, Coy said, and the original runway was supposed to be much larger — 7,000 feet, to be exact.

“We’ve got 60 acres in one direction, and another 45 in another that’s not being utilized because it never got turned into runway,” Coy said. “And the economics in Franklin County right now are pretty incredible in terms of employment opportunities and education. There’s a lot of things aligning for this county to have one of the most expansive growth opportunities in New England.”

Beliveau said many of the homes up near the airport have curb stops in them, already pre-tapped to the main so that if the residents choose to, they too can connect to the proposed waterline if it’s installed.

“We knew that, after talking with (Cliff) Coy, that if something were to happen up here, they would want to connect,” Beliveau said.

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.”

Highgate Selectboard Chair Sharon Bousquet said she was on the fence as to whether or not she thought a local bond vote for the project 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.”

Beliveau said he couldn’t see a reason not to pass the bond vote, but if it didn’t pass, the village is prepared to help.

“The sad thing would be that — if it didn’t pass, we remain status-quo,” Beliveau said. “You’re going to continue to see our kids move away and not try to stay here, live here and work here. This is going to be prime for Highgate and in Swanton.”

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