After developing quick for many years, the Machias Valley Airport is nearer to including an extended runway for LifeFlight of Maine’s fixed-wing airplane.
Along with its 2,900-foot runway, the airport may get federal clearance as early as subsequent spring to constructing a roughly 4,300-foot runway, which might permit LifeFlight’s aircraft to land safely in most climate circumstances.
That’s a distinction not solely in toes, however crucial lifesaving minutes.
This previous 12 months within the Machias space, 168 critically sick sufferers spent an hour or extra touring by helicopter to a lifesaving facility — as an alternative of the ten to fifteen minutes it will have taken in LifeFlight’s fixed-wing aircraft, in keeping with the airport committee’s annual report.
Though all LifeFlight Leonardo helicopters and its Beechcraft aircraft are outfitted as “cellular ICUs,” and journey time is dependent upon plenty of components, the aircraft can fly farther and sooner in worse climate.
Invoice Kitchen, the Machias city supervisor, airport supervisor — and a volunteer firefighter — has been on calls the place the climate and people treasured minutes mattered.
“There’s nothing extra upsetting once you’re pulling any person out of a automotive wreck in crucial situation and it’s a must to ask, are the circumstances proper for the aircraft to land on the runway?” Kitchen stated. “They nearly by no means are, so that you form of put your head down and say, ‘OK, we’ll do the perfect we will.’”
The necessity for extra dependable emergency medical air evacuation is why the city was awarded $1.25 million of congressionally directed spending in 2021 for an environmental evaluation and property acquisition so as to add an extended runway, starting a multiyear, four-step course of.
The primary two phases are underway: the design part to find out the right alignment and siting for the runway; and the environmental evaluation by the U.S. Environmental Safety Company.
Earlier this month, the primary of three public hearings was held at Rose M. Gaffney College in Machias, the place 4 web site choices had been introduced by Man Rouelle, aviation director for DuBois & King, the Vermont-based engineering and consulting agency main the mission.
Two of the 4 proposed web site alignments had been dominated out as a result of considered one of them directs the flight path over the city, and the opposite straddles Machias and Whitneyville, additional complicating the approval course of.
That narrowed the main target to the 2 choices that modify by way of the variety of properties that might have to be acquired, what number of property house owners could be affected, and the affect to wetlands.
Ideally, in keeping with Rouelle, the Federal Aviation Administration and EPA desire a answer that helps a runway lengthy sufficient to help LifeFlight and minimizes the affect to the setting.
Seemingly, the simplest answer with the least affect would have been extending the prevailing 2,900-foot-long, 60-foot-wide runway. However as a result of the runway is pinched between Route 1 and the Machias River, it’s not an choice.
Kitchen stated officers made one of many city’s high 5 planning errors by situating the runway in such a restricted location when the airport was constructed within the mid-Nineteen Sixties. Rouelle stated a part of their job as consultants is to verify the brand new runway isn’t once more hemmed in ought to wants change over time.
“In our plan, we’re going to work with the FAA to guard the airspace across the airport for what I name ‘future proofing,’ simply in case 20 years from now they wish to do one thing slightly totally different, possibly slightly longer runway,” Rouelle stated.
Kitchen hopes sometime the airport may tackle business flights, and they’re retaining that in thoughts as they design the extension.
He’s optimistic the FAA and EPA will grant clearance for the mission to maneuver ahead by subsequent spring. That will make the mission “shovel prepared” for the ultimate two phases: acquisition of properties from affected property house owners; and the ultimate design, allowing and development.
An estimated $15 million to $20 million will have to be secured for the precise development of the runway, in keeping with Rouelle and Kitchen. Rouelle, who wrote the grants that finally funded airport expansions in Rangeley and Jackman, is assured Machias’ mission might be funded as effectively.
He stated the cash possible will come from plenty of sources, together with the FAA, further earmarks by way of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ workplace, and the Maine Division of Transportation, which has already dedicated roughly $1 million for the brand new runway as a part of its three-year transportation plan.
LifeFlight has been concerned all through the planning, serving to advocate for state and federal funding, because it did for the airport expansions in Rangeley, Jackman, Princeton and Eastport. The King Air fixed-wing can land in any respect of these airports beneath most circumstances, in keeping with Josh Dickson, director of aviation companies for LifeFlight.
Machias is the final rural airport on LifeFlight’s record of expansions seen as essential to its mission.
“We firmly imagine geography shouldn’t be the harbinger of well being care outcomes,” stated Tom Decide, the LifeFlight of Maine founder and former CEO. “So we have to do every little thing we probably can to verify there’s a system that may get to sufferers.”
The nonprofit air ambulance service, supported by personal donations and insurance coverage reimbursements, will quickly roll out its in-house floor transportation service with three specifically outfitted ambulances. LifeFlight presently makes use of ambulances from municipal and personal companies at any time when ICU-level care floor transport is required for quite a lot of causes, together with climate and medical necessity.
The $1.92 million preliminary funding for the brand new ambulances might be funded by way of the LifeFlight Basis, though the group additionally requested for federal funding by way of Collins’ workplace that has been included in appropriations, in keeping with Henry Frank, the LifeFlight communications director. He added the funds haven’t been dispersed and it’s unclear when might be obtained, given uncertainties round appropriations making it by way of Congress.
LifeFlight operations and salaries are supported with insurance coverage reimbursements, however the group can not invoice for companies when it borrows an ambulance for floor transports. These personal corporations invoice for reimbursement. Joe Kellner, who took over because the LifeFlight CEO on Oct. 1, stated proudly owning a floor transportation service will present a brand new income.
“The income is not going to absolutely offset the prices of performing the companies,” Kellner stated. “Nonetheless, it should offset a few of the prices that LifeFlight has been absorbing related to offering floor transport.”
Final 12 months, LifeFlight transported 2,020 sufferers by air and 448 by floor, with 26 p.c of its transports occurring on the bottom. Kellner expects these numbers to rise, citing elevated tourism, discount in companies at group hospitals (comparable to closing of obstetric models), and the ageing inhabitants.
Moreover, Kellner stated they anticipate requests for floor transports to extend when their new ambulances are stationed in Lewiston and Sanford, primarily based merely on the provision of these property. One other ambulance might be stationed in Bangor.
Kellner believes LifeFlight’s floor transportation will assist help a fracturing EMS system. However Rick Petrie, the interim govt director for Atlantic EMS, a regional EMS advocacy group, doesn’t utterly agree.
He acknowledged LifeFlight’s new service may assist tackle the persistent downside of shifting sufferers, significantly these critically sick, however questions the profit for Washington County as a result of the closest LifeFlight ambulance would launch from Bangor.
Northern Mild AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle has run its personal in-house specialised, crucial care floor transport ambulances for greater than 20 years. Daryl Boucher, the vp of operations for the hospital, doesn’t see LifeFlight’s new floor service as competitors. He stated LifeFlight has been a terrific associate and he appears ahead to that persevering with.
“Their service goes to enrich what we do and provides yet one more useful resource to assist transfer sufferers round that, frankly, each day is a problem,” Boucher stated.
Nonetheless, Petrie stated it’s a double-edged sword.
“The issue is that [LifeFlight’s ground service] will affect some areas’ ambulance companies who’ve been doing these calls and getting paid for them,” Petrie stated. “What we actually have to be as a complete is why are we on this disaster and what do we have to do collectively to get out of it?”
The controversy over the right way to create larger entry to emergency medical transport — whereas additionally serving to struggling EMS companies survive — comes because the blue-ribbon fee to review emergency medical companies within the state is reconvening.
The primary of six conferences might be held Monday, with a report due on Dec. 6. Kellner, the LifeFlight CEO, is on the fee; different members haven’t been introduced.
In line with the assembly agenda, gadgets initially being reviewed embody the Maine Emergency Medical Companies strategic plan; EMS-related laws proposed in 2023; the Division of Well being and Human Companies’ position in help of EMS in Maine; and fee targets and desired outcomes.
The fee’s first report earlier this 12 months resulted in legislators approving $31 million in funding, in addition to different aid, that can present respiration room for the roughly 275 emergency medical companies statewide, some on the breaking point.
The help might be distributed in two batches, with the primary 40 p.c given out by Maine EMS by way of a grant course of starting Oct. 25, in keeping with Petrie. He hopes the rest will exit shortly.
“We’re shifting slowly to the place we have to be, however now we have to work on the sustainability or we’ll be proper again in the identical place,” Petrie stated.
This story was initially printed by The Maine Monitor, a nonprofit and nonpartisan information group. To get common protection from the Monitor, join a free Monitor e-newsletter right here.