City Cites Shortcomings of Longer Runway

Warwick Beacon Online
August 9, 2011 By John Howell

In a six-page letter to the environmental program manager at the Federal Aviation Administration, Mayor Scott Avedisian has listed 16 deficiencies in the study to lengthen Green Airport’s major runway to 8,700 feet, in support of the city’s objection to a record of decision expected to be issued later this month.

Avedisian calls the final report, and its response to public comments issued last month, “incomplete and non-compliant” with National Environmental Policy Act policies and guidelines. Also, in the letter to Richard Doucette, the mayor says, “The study’s outmoded data and inaccurate analysis creates a false need for Preferred Build Option B4 [the 8,700-foot proposal], which will unnecessarily, adversely impact the host community.”

“If it is new and substantial,” Doucette said yesterday of the city’s comments, “it will be addressed in the decision.”

He could not say whether a decision would be postponed as the mayor has requested. Doucette said he also received comments from the EPA and the Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.

He said the EPA comment is the “shortest letter I’ve received.” It simply acknowledged receipt of the final study. He hadn’t read the commission’s letter but concluded “it’s nothing new to them.”

The mayor’s point-by-point list covers much of the same arguments the city has made throughout the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, since the premise was advanced that the airport needs a longer runway to provide airlines the opportunity to offer nonstop flights to the West Coast. The city argues that purpose and need for the longer runway is now considered efficiency improvements “that are falsely based on the use of large, obsolete, fuel-inefficient aircraft.” Specifically, the letter cites the inefficient Boeing 767-800, claiming the outdated aircraft requires the longest runway length supported in the study, “even though the market proves that this large old fuel-consuming aircraft will not be the aircraft flown to support the assumed growth” at Green.

“Maybe it was appropriate in 2007,” City Planner William DePasquale said Friday, “but there have been changes.”

Apart from the selection of aircraft to determine runway length for service to the West Coast, DePasquale points to the decline in passenger traffic at Green, the recession and the emphasis on cost savings.

“Should we not also recognize differences in economic conditions?” he asks.

Avedisian favors a shorter extension – 8,300 and 8,500 feet have been mentioned – as reducing the impact on the city and reducing costs while minimally affecting the ability to carry heavier loads and extend service.

DePasquale also argues, with efforts to cut federal spending, a proposal that would cut costs would have a better chance of funding. Rhode Island Airport Corporation CEO Kevin Dillon is hopeful of gaining 75 percent federal funding for an extension, with lesser amounts (or no federal participation) being problematic.

Among other shortcomings of the report listed are its failure to:

Doucette (one of more than 4,000 FAA employees nationwide on a two-week furlough until the Senate passed an extension of the FAA budget after some partisan wrangling) said a decision has been delayed for about a week.

A record of decision is expected later this month or in early September. Assuming it is favorable, Dillon said the first action would be to upgrade safety areas on Runway 16-34, the shorter of the two runways, to meet FAA standards. This will require the acquisition of 10 businesses and the relocation to the north of the Post and Airport Road intersection. At the eastern end of the runway, about seven acres of Buckeye Brook wetlands will be altered. RIAC will also need council approval of a wetlands permit.

Dillon expects 75 percent federal funding of the project, estimated to cost $77 million.

RIAC wouldn’t apply for funding of the runway extension, estimated at $88 million, until March of next year, should it receive a favorable record of decision.