City wants more runway analysis

To ask for delay in the record of decision

Warwick Beacon Online
July 26, 2011 By John Howell

With the comment period for plans to build an extension to Green Airport’s Runway 5-23 and other improvements closing Aug. 8, the city will ask that the Federal Aviation Administration delay a record of decision until it reviews several issues the city claims haven’t been sufficiently studied.

Meanwhile, Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday that he intends to meet with the City Council in executive session to review the city’s options, including possible legal action, now that the FAA is expected to render a favorable decision to extend the runway from 7,161 to 8,700 feet. The meeting is Aug. 15. The FAA’s record of decision is expected at the end of the month or early September.

“We will be asking that no record of decision be issued until a supplementary study be completed…until the loose ends are tied up,” City Planner William DePasquale said yesterday.

Among those issues the city feels the environmental impact statement failed to fully address include the loss of affordable single family housing, impact on city tax revenues, the impact on children using the John Wickes School playground and impact on the historical cemetery that is within the obstruction-free area at the end of the runway just within the fence on Main Avenue.

DePasquale also says the EIS does not adequately consider the economic impacts of the project, given the current environment and the possibility that the Rhode Island Airport Corporation may not receive the level of financial aid from the FAA to lengthen the runway.

“It,” he said of the EIS, “Never took a fresh look at the economic constraints.”

The extension is projected to cost $88 million.

RIAC CEO Kevin Dillon sees no need for additional study after more than a decade of debate.

“I think it unfortunate that the city would want to continue to delay a decision. It just continues the uncertainty for the surrounding community.”

As Dillon has explained, the agency will look to use a form of financing, a letter of intent, for the runway extension. Assuming a favorable record of decision, RIAC won’t be eligible to apply for the letter until next March and is not likely to know what level of federal funding, assuming any, it would receive for the project until next year at this time.

RIAC is unlikely to proceed if federal funding is not available and it would need to decide whether it could afford the project at different levels of FAA participation.

As the city has maintained throughout the study for an extended runway, DePasquale reasoned an 8,300-foot runway would enable 90 percent of the airline fleet serving Green the capability of rendering non-stop service to the West Coast while significantly reducing the impact on the city and costs.

“An added 200 feet is not going to make any difference to Wickes School or the cemetery,” said Dillon. He likewise doesn’t see it as impacting construction costs significantly.

“I’m not sure what you really achieve,” he said.

DePasquale further argues there has been “less than full disclosure” on how RIAC will deal with relocating the Winslow Park ball fields and the extent of the cemetery. The Lakeshore Drive neighborhood where RIAC once wanted to locate corporate hangars in an area once occupied by homes is now being eyed as the place for the fields. Previously RIAC was looking at property cleared of single-family homes on Strawberry Field Road west.

“There are questions about lights, traffic [access would be from a service road off Airport Road]…we would like to see more details,” DePasquale said.

Both DePasquale and Avedisian don’t see the city objecting to the safety improvement areas proposed for Runway 16-34, the shorter of Green’s two runways. That project is a priority if RIAC is to meet the 2015 deadline for FAA safety standards. The project requires the relocation of the Airport Road/Post Road intersection to the north and the acquisition of ten businesses on the west end of the runway. To the east, Buckeye Brook wetlands would be altered.

DePasquale said the final EIS reduces the amount of wetlands impacted from 7.3 to 5 acres. He said it doesn’t quantify wetlands mitigation efforts, however.

“It is silly to think they [FAA] would waive concerns over the safety areas,” Avedisian said of the Runway 16-34 project.

That’s not how he sees the extension, however.

“The extension is discretionary,” he said, “and it’s not sure they’re going to have the money.” He said an 8,300 or 8,500-foot runway would do the job at less cost and impact on the city.

“I don’t know how much more analysis you could do,” said Dillon, “it’s time to bring it to a conclusion.”