Providence Journal Online, Providence, RI
Warwick, Agency at Odds over Airport Expansion Plan
01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Barbara Polichetti, Staff Writer

WARWICK — One document, two dramatically different interpretations.

In publicly releasing the details of the agreement he has been trying to hammer out with the city regarding the proposed runway expansion at T.F. Green Airport, the head of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation says that the draft document clearly shows that his agency wants to do all it can to address local concerns.

“I have listened very carefully to the many concerns that have been raised and all the things that have been complained about are dealt with in here,” airport corporation President Kevin Dillon said, pointing to the seven-page memorandum of agreement he has been working on for months with Mayor Scott Avedisian.

Dillon said that the agreement will cost the airport corporation at least several million dollars, but the agency is pursuing a pact with the city because it wants to be responsive and it is best if the two entities work together on the runway proposal.

In a separate interview, Avedisian slammed the agreement for being skimpy with specifics and not doing enough to protect or compensate the city.

“Mr. Dillon has lived in Rhode Island for less than two years,” Avedisian said. “I’ve been mayor of this city for ten. I don’t need him to tell me what’s best for my community.”

Case in point, he said, is the Winslow recreation area, which will be displaced by the expansion project.

Avedisian said it doesn’t matter that the airport corporation has said it has another location where it will replicate the complex, which consists of six playing fields plus concession stands. What the airport corporation hasn’t done, he said, is comply with the city request for detailed plans to show that the fields will fit on property off Strawberry Field Road.

“He [Dillon] is saying trust me, but I can’t just tell that to the citizens,” Avedisian said. “He needs to come up with more details, not just promises.” Dillon noted that few people know that the airport owns almost all of the land where the existing ball fields are located and it has no legal obligation to replace all of them. Avedisian said he would fight that opinion in court.

The proposal to lengthen the main runway at Green from 7,100 feet to 8,700 feet is pending before the Federal Aviation Administration which will have the final say on the project. A decision is not expected until the end of 2010. The plan also includes safety improvements to the cross runway which that will affect wetlands in the area.

Dillon and Avedisian have been negotiating the memorandum of agreement for months but the particulars were confidential until last week when Dillon asked the City Council to join the discussion in an attempt to break the stalemate he has apparently reached with the mayor.

Avedisian said he does not object to the council being involved but he believes that Dillon is trying to circumvent his office.

The many concerns he cited about the agreement included the criticism that the Wickes and St. Rose Lima schools will be too close the longer runway and that the airport’s offer to monitor the air quality within the two buildings is not sufficient mitigation. Avedisian said the airport corporation should purchase the schools and relocate them.

In his comments to the City Council, Dillon said he is receptive to alternate requests from the city, but has received no counterproposal in the roughly four months since he submitted the draft memorandum to Avedisian in June.

Dillon said he understands that the clause stipulating no challenges from the city is controversial and may need to be reworded. “I am not looking for the city to waive its right to address inaccuracies of other factual problems,” he said. “But I do think it’s time that it acknowledges that we need this infrastructure expansion.”

In appearing before the council, Dillon noted that having a memorandum with the city is not a required part of the FAA application process.

Avedisian said that even if the agreement is not an FAA requirement, he will not let the city be excluded from the application process.

“If Mr. Dillon does decide at some point that it is no longer important to have a dialogue with the city of Warwick, we may in fact institute a lawsuit and keep this swirling in the courts for years,” he said.Elements of the deal

The draft agreement between Warwick and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, about the expansion of the main runway at T.F. Green states that the airport corporation will:

The document also says: