Caribou businessmen Troy Haney (right) and Jim Gamage, pictured in this Jan. 12 file photo, first proposed building a log cabin village on Caribou airport land earlier this year. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Developers of potentially the first log cabin village in Maine are seeking a different location after Caribou nixed the use of airport land.

The proposal’s non-aviation nature would jeopardize the airport’s federal funding, Caribou City Manager Penny Thompson said.

Limited lodging options handicap Aroostook County during large-scale events. The developers, Troy Haney and Jim Gamage, discovered this when this winter they organized the region’s first snowmobile festival, which drew between 8,000 to 10,000 people. Even before the event Haney and Gamage heard stories of visitors struggling to find available rooms. Given The County’s reputation as a major snowmobile and ATV hub, the businessmen saw a log cabin village as one step toward a solution.

“We’re looking for an area with trail access and proximity to restaurants and shops,” Haney said.

If constructed, the village could include an initial 20 cabins, with their own kitchens, bathrooms, air-conditioning and heating units, furniture and covered porches. Each cabin would house four to eight people. A nearby clubhouse would include laundry facilities, showers, bathrooms, a convenience store and lounge area.

Earlier this year, Haney and Gamage suggested a vacant 7 1/2-acre parcel on Caribou Municipal Airport land as the ideal location. The land formerly housed the Caribou Trailer Park, set to close in July, and is near Caribou’s trail system and downtown.

But now Haney and Gamage are looking for a more rural location, preferably in Caribou, that would not interfere with airport regulations.

The airport’s first two landing strips were built in 1929. For decades, Caribou has relied on Federal Aviation Administration grants to fund hangar and runway expansion.

That means the city’s airport master plan calls for potential expansion of aviation facilities rather than non-aviation uses, said Thompson.

Residential units, even short term, aren’t the kind of development the administration considers suitable for an airport, said FAA spokesperson Brittany Trotter.

“The city must ensure that its airport layout plan accurately reflects future development plans,” Trotter said.

Development that could better support airport operations could include aircraft maintenance shops or warehouses, Thompson said.

“All money generated on the airport land must stay at the airport to further airport operations and maintenance,” she said.

The city’s former trailer park existed there from the 1970s only after the city acquired the parcel through unpaid taxes and added it to the airport.

The aviation administration does not have the final say on project development but could withhold funding for future aviation projects if it feels Caribou is pursuing inappropriate development, Thompson said.

Since the city owns the airport, the Caribou City Council would need to approve development there. The city opposes locating the cabins on airport land.

Citizen Airport Advisory Committee Chairperson John Karod wrote to the council that Haney and Gamage’s proposal is inconsistent with the airport’s master plan, which targets potential aviation development.

“The area [proposed for log cabins] is earmarked in the plan as ideal for hangar construction and aviation-related business,” Karod wrote.

Caribou Municipal Airport has two hangar buildings — one that can store two airplanes and another that can hold six. Another building has one private hangar.

The city does not track how many pilots use the hangars because there is no landing fee. But pilots have expressed increased interest in landing in Caribou due to the city’s central location in Aroostook, according to Thompson.

The proposed village’s proximity to the runway sparks other concerns, said Councilor Dan Bagley, chairperson of the council’s airport committee. The cabins would be near existing snowmobile and ATV trails, but a path between the cabins and trails would need to be constructed. That could put riders too close to the runway, Bagley said.

Both airport committees worry about noise from snowmobiles and ATVs that could disturb nearby residents, Bagley said.

“The [two airport committees] agreed that a different location for the cabin concept should be pursued,” Bagley said. “Specifically, in a rural area and preferably near an existing segment of the trail system.”

Both Bagley and Karold said their committees support Haney and Gamage’s overall idea, just not at the airport.

Haney did not respond directly to the committees’ concerns but is not giving up his quest to solve Aroostook’s lodging problems.

He is constructing a campground near Caribou’s riverfront, which he plans to open this summer with nine sites for RVs and campers. He sees a log cabin village as another tool for attracting more visitors.

“We see a need for lodging. There are hotels with new owners being renovated but not expanded,” Haney said. “Log cabins would be a unique option for people.”