Earnshaw says 'No thanks.' to Funding in Airport Agreement
by Russell J. Moore
Warwick Beacon Online - Rhody Beat
Aug 26, 2010

Paul Earnshaw, President of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, said he doesn’t think the organization should accept funding from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC).

As part of a proposed mitigation agreement (which hasn’t been signed) between the RIAC and the City of Warwick, RIAC would “provide $5,000 annually to the Buckeye Brook Watershed Association, or other local environmental group designated jointly by the City and RIAC for the sole purpose of assisting with the annual clean-up of the Buckeye Brook.

“It’s shut up and go away money. That’s exactly what this seems like to me,” said Earnshaw, when contacted yesterday.

The coalition, throughout its history, which spans over a decade, has been highly critical of the airport with respect to its affect on the environment particularly the Buckeye Brook, which runs alongside east side of the airport.

“I would have to bring this to the board, and it’s a big amount, but I would have to recommend that we turn it down,” said Earnshaw.

A 9-member board of directors governs the Buckeye Brook Foundation. While the decision would ultimately be up to that body, of which Earnshaw is a member, his recommendation would likely weigh heavily on the decision given his position as president.

Earnshaw said the proposal comes as a “shocker” to him, as he wasn’t briefed on the proposal.

“My feeling is that I never signed on or agreed to this, and quite frankly this is really the first I’ve heard of this as we were never really consulted or anything,” said Earnshaw.

Earnshaw said that with human nature being what it is, he feared that the members of the group would feel pressure to tone down their rhetoric when criticizing the airport so as not to bite the hand feeding them.

“We would probably have a different feeling towards RIAC, like we were committed to them,” said Earnshaw.

RIAC President Kevin Dillon did not respond to a request for comment.

“We don't feel it's appropriate to comment on the (memorandum of agreement) at this juncture,” wrote RIAC’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Patti Goldstein, in an email.

Mayor Scott Avedisian pointed out that were the board to accept the money, it would not affect the foundation’s practices.

“The Buckeye Brook Coalition is a well-respected environmental advocacy organization within the city and we have always supported their efforts on behalf of water quality in the Buckeye Brook Watershed. I certainly respect Mr. Earnshaw’s personal opinion. Should the City Council vote to approve the document with the proposed funding intact and if the full Coalition board shares Mr. Earnshaw’s point of view, I would fully respect their decision not to accept money from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation,” wrote Avedisian in an email.

“However, I want to reiterate that the draft memorandum of agreement does not give up the city’s rights to object to any of the issues relative to water quality and Buckeye Brook. It is also important to note that the proposed funding is not conditioned and should not affect the Coalition’s current and future practices.

Avedisian also expressed discontent with the fact that the mitigation proposal has fallen into the hands of the press.

“It is unfortunate that a draft agreement was leaked to the press, as it does not allow for a full and candid discussion of the issues surrounding the airport, Buckeye Brook, or the agreement itself,” Avedisian said.

Meanwhile, the coalition will host a fundraiser on Sunday, September 19, at Riverview Avenue 4 to 6 p.m. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. The suggested donation from the public is $15; and members should donate $10, Earnshaw said (all children can enter for free). There will be a live band, and hot dogs and hamburgers will be served.

There will also be a live band, and Greg Wells, of the Pew Trust organization, will talk about environmental preservation.

Earnshaw said that the group remains staunchly opposed to the EMAS (Engineered Material Arresting System) proposal. The EMAS proposal is a safety measure that would enhance the safety of the airport’s shorter runway, 16-34, by creating a safety zone that would collapse under the weight of the aircraft. (The preferred alternative for the longer runway extension wouldn’t negatively affect the Buckeye Brook.)

The problem, Earnshaw said, is that the airport’s construction of the EMAS would negatively impact 7.3 acres of wetlands surrounding the airport. Without the EMAS the runway would fail to meet Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.

“Filling almost seven-and-a-half acres of wetlands is totally unacceptable for us,” said Earnshaw.