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National Guard presents helicopter concept plan at MWR airport

Col. David Mikolaities of the N.H. Army National Guard, a West Point graduate who is director of public works-facilities engineering, and three other Guardsmen opened up a dialog on Wednesday with the Whitefield selectmen, townspeople and other stakeholders on the potential for developing a helicopter training facility on a 3.97-acre site at the municipally owned Mount Washington Regional Airport in Whitefield. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
February 10, 2016
WHITEFIELD — Director of public works and facilities engineering Col. David Mikolaities and aviation officer LTC David Mattimore, both of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, and two other Guardsmen met with two of the three Whitefield selectmen — Duane Hall and Mark Lufkin — plus a roomful of other stakeholders to learn about a proposed concept plan to be developed on a 3.97-acre leased lot: a 65- by 75-foot helicopter hanger, a 7,500 square foot flight operations building, two 50- by 50-foot helipads, and a nearly 42,000 square foot apron — nearly an acre in size — and chain link fence at the municipally owned Mount Washington Regional Airport.

The facility would be built to meet existing training requirements, likely on weekends during six to eight months a year plus two weeks.

There are a number of reasons that the N. H. National Guard is looking to increase its training activities at the regional airport. The availability of the no-longer-used armory on Route 3 in Lancaster is certainly a major one, Mikolaities explained, noting that he had discussed the possibility of repurposing and revitalizing the armory with Lancaster town manager Ed Samson. The site there is a little small to regularly bring helicopters in and out, however.

The White Mountain National Forest is already used under Yankee I and II agreements for high-elevation training over rugged terrain and the Guard typically participates in six to eight Medivac hiker search and rescues every year.

Mikolaities pointed out that the Guard is aware of the particularly sensitive areas in the adjacent 7,000-acre Pondicherry Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge located in Whitefield and Jefferson and has good lines of communication with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that owns and manages by the 7,000-acre property in partnership with N.H. Audubon and state Fish and Game.

Medivac units also train more intensely over the WMNF every two-and-a-half-years before being deployed overseas, he said.

The Guard would use fuel trucks to supply Jet A fuel. There are no funds or plans to have the Guard install a costly jet fuel supply system.

Another plus, Mattimore explained, is that having a North Country training facility, even one only used part-time, would raise awareness of the Guard's role. Typically, the Spartan unit of the JROTC spends a day with helicopter crews, including a chance to take a flight.

Richard Yarnold, president of Ballantine Aviation Consulting Services, PLLC of Portland, explained that the airport's Master Plan is over 10 years old and likely should be updated.

The selectmen and members of the Washington Regional Airport Authority will have to evaluate whether giving up land, including required security setbacks, on a long-term lease is in the best interests of the airport's viability as it seeks to become financially independent from being required to seek local tax- dollars appropriations at area town meetings, Lufkin pointed out. The Guard could remove too much of the limited available acreage that has previously been designated for commercial airplane hangers that could serve to lower or eliminate the need for taxpayer dollars, especially if the 4,001-foot-long runway is lengthened.

The new facilities would financially result in a "net zero gain," Mikolaities admitted. There would be no Payment in Lieu of Taxes or any other payments made to the town or its airport.

The Jan. 27 editorial in Salmon Press' three northern papers said that there is "the potential for the National Guard to build substantial infrastructure at the site, possibly meaning the taxpayers of five towns would no longer be asked to fund the airport." That turns out, however, not to be the case.

Richard "Dick" Mallion of Whitefield, a retired Army Brig. General, pointed out, however, that supporting the National Guard is "the price of freedom."

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