With Challenge Lifted, Next Step to Airport Plan is Relocation of Playing Fields

Warwick Beacon Online
May 15, 2012 By John Howell

The clock is ticking now that the City Council has dismissed its challenge of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision granting a longer runway at Green Airport.

Both the airport and the city are up against deadlines.

RIAC President Kevin Dillon is anxious to get the first two of several projects outlined in the plan started in order to meet the 2015 deadline for runway safety area requirements and ensure financing is in place. Dillon aims to have construction started on safety areas on the shorter of Green’s runway by this time next year. The $77 million project will require relocation of the Post and Airport Road intersection to the north and a permit to extend the safety area to the east, into Buckeye Brook wetlands.

Dillon is reasonably certain of 75 percent FAA funding for the safety areas because that is a high FAA priority.

Runway extension funding is another matter.

He said that anything less than 75 percent funding would require a financial review and a decision on how quickly to move forward. A letter of intent for $64 million of the $88 million project was submitted by the March 1 deadline. He is hopeful of having a response by mid-July.

“It is the next trigger point and whether or not there’s a project and how quickly it will move forward,” Dillon said.

On another front, which some city officials see as the next hurdle, the city is faced with a Sept. 1 deadline on the decision for the relocation of the Winslow Park softball and soccer fields. During negotiations over the agreement, the Knight Campus of the Community College of Rhode Island was identified as the possible site for the fields.

College President Ray Di Pasquale would love to have another one or two fields on campus. He’s made it clear the college doesn’t have any money to put into the project.

But there are two instructional softball, four regulation softball and three soccer fields at Winslow. Where will they all go, and will the $4 million RIAC has earmarked for relocating the fields be enough?

If the city fails to identify field locations by the deadline, under terms of the agreement the fields will go to airport property it bought and cleared of homes in the Lakeshore Drive – Cedar Swamp area. Access to the site would be from an improved road now serving the RIAC garage and maintenance building on the northeast side of the airfield.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday he met last week with Di Pasquale, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, City Council President Bruce Place and key CCRI staff.

Vella-Wilkinson reported that the college “is very interested” in locating fields at the campus but before any decisions can be reached, an environmental assessment and engineering designs need to be done. Also, in talking with the soccer and softball leagues, she said it is not imperative that all the fields be located at the same place.

“There will be a follow-up in the near future. Ball field relocation is a top issue to be worked out and the city, CCRI, and RIAC will be meeting soon to get a handle on what the possibilities are,” the mayor said.

Also, under the terms of the agreement, RIAC is to have identified what properties will be eligible for acquisition because they will come under the noise contour of the runway extension. The plan is to then have a schedule, again based on the availability of financing for the extension, for the purchase of those properties.

As for the acquisition of 10 businesses and one residence for the safety areas on the shorter runway, Dillon said appraisals are being done and that he hopes offers finalized by the end of this year. Construction on the west end of that project is targeted to start next spring with the demolition of a hangar that is within the safety area and construction of the relocated Airport Road. Dillon said the safety area on the east end of the runway, which requires a wetlands permit, would be considered as a separate project and probably would not start until 2014.

The playing fields are also near the top of Dillon’s list.

He would like to have construction of the fields started by next spring and ready for use the following year.

As will be done with Airport Road, and again assuming 75 percent FAA financing of the runway extension, a relocated Main Avenue would be built before the existing section of the road at the end of the runway is closed.

Throughout the process of both the extended runway and safety areas, Dillon said RIAC must be sensitive to not interrupting traffic flow, whether it be airport operations or vehicular traffic patterns in the city.

Vella-Wilkinson led the charge to challenge the FAA ruling for the extended runway. The agreement to drop litigation on the condition that RIAC carry through on a series of city requests in many ways reflects a memorandum of understanding reached by the mayor and rejected by the council two years ago.

Although RIAC planned to relocate the playing fields as well as meet other city requests, Vella-Wilkinson said it is important to have it in writing.

“The fact that we were able to create an enforceable agreement is tremendous,” she said. “RIAC is really making a concerted effort to being a good neighbor.”