Longer runway gets FAA OK

Warwick Beacon Online
September 27, 2011 By John Howell

After more than a decade of wrangling over different plans to lengthen Green Airport runways, countless hearings and indefinite uncertainty for those living in the proposed path of expansion, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation has the approval it needs to move ahead with $165 million of construction work.

It could all start soon, too.

But, now that the Federal Aviation Administration has rendered a positive recommendation on a longer runway and a series of other projects, RIAD CEO Kevin Dillon wants to get a green light from the host community.

“Let’s stop the combative approach,” Dillon said yesterday, “Let’s work toward a successful, viable airport.”

Dillon said the rhetoric of city leaders “isn’t getting anyone anywhere. Let’s drill down to the true issues and they would find a very willing partner here…Now that we have approval, now’s the time to work hand-in-hand.”

While Dillon says he’s extending the olive branch, it’s questionable whether the city will work with RIAC or seek to delay or stop, a longer runway.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said Friday he would confer with City Council President Bruce Place. Some council members have already said the health of Warwick residents is at stake and, regardless of cost, and maintain that the city should challenge a favorable decision.

In her decision, FAA Regional Administrator Amy Lind Corbett justifies a longer runway on the basis of demand for West Coast service.

“The Project will enhance the ability for airlines to initiate service to the West Coast from T. F. Green Airport, thereby avoiding an over-reliance on Logan Airport. FAA has determined that environmental and other relevant concerns presented by interested agencies and citizens have been addressed in the FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement].”

She goes on to say, “There are no outstanding environmental issues within FAA jurisdiction to be studied or NEPA requirements that have not been met.”

Avedisian wasn’t surprised.

“"I think that we all knew that this day was going to come. After more than 13 years and $12 million, I think we all expected that the FAA was going to approve the preferred alternative,” he said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

When Dillon was hired by RIAC, more than three years ago, he made resolving the extension of Runway 5-23 a priority. He scuttled plans that extended the runway from 7,166 to 9,250 feet to the north or south and advocated a less ambitious plan for an 8,700 runway, with the extension to the south. The plan calls for a realignment of Main Avenue.

Likewise, he made safety improvements to Green’s shorter Runway 16-34 a priority. That plan, which will require the relocation of the Airport and Post Road intersection to the north, and the alteration of about 7 acres of Buckeye Brook wetlands, is part of the decision. The wetlands alteration will require council approval.

Dillon is looking to move ahead as quickly as he can.

At Friday’s board meeting, RIAC approved the retention of AECOM of Philadelphia and that will serve, basically, as a “staff extension.” Dillon said the AECOM team that would provide design and construction management service would be headed by Achille Niro, who Dillon worked with during expansion of the Manchester, NH airport.

“This is a good day for the airport and a good day for the state economy,” Dillon said of the decision.

Avedisian also looked for the good in the decision.

"There are many things that are wins for this city,” he said in a statement Friday. “When this project started, they were suggesting that there be two runway extensions – both more than 10,000 feet. Due to the city's diligence, that has been scaled back to one runway at 8,700 feet. In addition, the city was successful in getting a number of items included in the new state guide plan for airports that will assist in strategizing about ways to make up the lost tax revenue that expansion will cause, the loss of affordable housing stock, and continued environmental testing.”

In fact, on Friday the board approved a $106,158 contract with Rhode Island Analytical Laboratories to monitor storm runoff as required by the Department of Environmental Management permit and a $147,935 contract for air monitoring as required by state statute.

Although not a requirement of the decision, RIAC has agreed to relocate the Winslow Park playing fields that would be taken by the extension. The plan is to relocate the fields to an area off Lake Shore Drive, where homes were acquired as part of RIAC’s voluntary home acquisition program. Access to the site would be from a service road off Airport Road, thereby averting traffic congestion in the adjoining neighborhood.

"The fact that the Winslow recreational complex will be relocated is another win for the City – meaning that the Apponaug Girls Softball league and Warwick Firefighters' Soccer will have homes,” the mayor said.

As the decision makes clear, the FAA is in agreement with the airport projects but funding of the work is not guaranteed. Dillon believes RIAC will gain 75 percent funding for the runway safety improvements and that work could start next year. RIAC will not be able to apply for funding for the runway extension until next March. Depending on the level of funding granted, which RIAC won’t know until next summer, the board would have to decide whether to proceed.