WATERVILLE — Reconstruction of the longest runway at the city’s Robert LaFleur Airport is expected to be completed within a year, following news the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $4.3 million grant for the airport project.

“We’re very, very excited. This is probably going to be the biggest project the Waterville airport has seen in many, many years,” said airport manager Randy Marshall after the grant was announced Monday.

The money will be used to repave and rehabilitate 5/23, the main 5,500-foot runway, fix safety areas and replace runway lighting, said Marshall.

“It is in poor condition and we do receive calls frequently from pilots of larger aircraft concerned about the quality of the pavement and whether they want to bring their aircraft to Waterville because of that,” said Marshall. “This will help alleviate that and kind of renew the life of the airport.”

Upgrading the airport has been a priority for groups working to boost the region’s economy.

“We’re extremely pepped up that the city and the federal government are making this investment in LaFleur Airport,” said Kim Lindlof, executive director of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and interim head of the Central Maine Growth Council. “This runway reconstruction is critical to the economic vitality of the region.”

Lindof said the work on runway 5/23 is especially important because it is longer than what many of the municipal airports in the state have. Runway length dictates the size airplanes that can use it.

It is still too early to say when construction will begin, Marshall said.

Airport executives will meet with contractors later this week, but it may be difficult to do the construction in the colder months, he said.

In addition to the $4,326,300 awarded to the Waterville airport, the transportation department also awarded $1,521,270 to the town of Brunswick for improvements at the Brunswick Executive Airport.

“Recent renovations at LaFleur Airport and its status as a foreign trade zone have strengthened its attractiveness to businesses,” Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement. “These federal investments will help the airports keep up the momentum while improving operations and providing work to local contractors.”

Waterville’s airport was built at an original cost of $16.775 million and opened in 1931. It was later renamed for U.S. Army Capt. Robert LaFleur, who was reported missing in action over Germany in 1943.

The grant was announced in a joint statement released Monday by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and in a separate statement from Pingree.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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