WISCASSET (AP) – Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties will seek federal approval of a plan to build a regional jail on land near the main runway of the Wiscasset Municipal Airport.

The counties, which have been scrambling to secure a site for the new jail, hope swift approval by the Federal Aviation Administration will allow them to put the issue of funding the jail before voters in November.

“Every day that goes by puts the question of holding a referendum further away,” said Crispin Connery, a Sagadahoc County commissioner. “We’re out of luck this year if we don’t have an option by July.”

Sagadahoc, the only Maine county without its own jail, sends its prisoners to Kennebec County. Sagadahoc averages about 31 prisoners a day while the overcrowded jail in Lincoln County averages 30 inmates a day. The new jail would have the capacity to house 115 prisoners.

A study last year concluded the counties would save an estimated $4.5 million over 20 years by building and operating a regional jail.

The study predicted it would cost $17 million to build a new jail, a cost that would approach $28.6 million with interest. Connery said the cost of a new jail is now probably closer to $20 million than $17 million.

FAA approval of the proposed site is required because the town has used federal grants to improve the airport and the government regulates air traffic at the facility. The town must also follow an FAA-approved airport master plan, which does not include a jail.

Wiscasset Town Manager David Kinney said construction of a correctional facility next to an airport is not without precedent. The former Maine Youth Center in South Portland is located within a few hundred feet of the Portland Jetport.

Wiscasset Municipal Airport is a small general aviation airport that serves local pilots who mostly fly small, single engine planes. The airport handled about 10,000 takeoffs and landings last year.

AP-ES-04-29-03 0217EDT

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