It only took two sentences, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to set in motion a process that could delay Green Airport expansion projects by as much as three years and, as hoped for by the City Council, bring added protections to Warwick residents.
On Monday, aviation attorney Steven M. Taber of Irvine, Calif., who the council retained barely a week ago, submitted the petition for review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) record of decision giving the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) the green light to extended Runway 5-23 to 8,700 feet and make safety improvements to the shorter Runway 16-34. The appeal cites the law, and the rule by which the review is requested, and includes a copy of the 129-page decision rendered Sept. 23.
Taber said yesterday the FAA is expected to file a response by Jan. 6, the deadline to file a certified index to the record of decision. Conceivably, the FAA could seek dismissal of the petition.
If that is the course chosen by the agency, Taber said the city would have two to four weeks for a counter proposal. Taber, who has yet to meet face-to-face with city officials, filed the petition electronically. And he added, “If I were to come to the city, it wouldn’t be on the city’s tab.”
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said he has reviewed the agreement with Taber and that the city will pay him about $200 an hour, which was approved by the council. He did no go into greater detail and Taber said the matter fell under attorney-client privilege.
Meanwhile, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council have condemned the Council’s action. The two groups announced Tuesday they have co-authored a letter urging the council to withdraw the appeal and let the improvements move forward.
“The FAA’s approval marks an important milestone in a project that has spanned two decades and garnered the input of many, including local residents, business professionals and airport officials,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “To appeal this decision now would only serve to delay a very important economic development project that could bring new jobs and revenue to the city of Warwick and the state of Rhode Island.”
White said that, according to the FAA Record of Decision, improvements at TF Green could create more than 700 jobs and upwards of $90.6 million in business spending in the city of Warwick during the 2012 to 2020 construction period. When indirect and induced impacts are included, it’s estimated the benefit would be more than 1,200 jobs and $130 million in additional spending in the city, and additional benefits statewide.
“It’s time for us to commit to the complete transformation of TF Green,” Michael F. Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a statement. “We have already made key investments in the facility, including the construction of the InterLink transportation hub. Now we must move forward. Continued improvements at the airport will help to grow Rhode Island’s economy by creating jobs and putting our residents back to work.”
Reiterating his disappointment with the council’s action, RIAC CEO and President Kevin Dillon said yesterday “it is highly unlikely that the city would prevail.” He also said it would take “considerably more” than the $65,000 the council has allocated to the appeal “to mount a full challenge.”
Dillon said the appeal casts a veil of “uncertainty” on businesses and residents, as well as the airlines serving Green.
“It sends a terrible message not only to the airlines, but anyone who wants to develop in this city,” he said. “It’s saying this is a city that really doesn’t want this airport.”
Because of the appeal, Dillon does not expect FAA to fund the airport projects, thereby putting them in limbo indefinitely.
Merolla, however, maintains that 90 percent of all lawsuits reach a settlement and that the intent of the action is to gain additional agreements and concessions. He points out that up until now, the city has been dealing with RIAC and that RIAC frequently reasons it can’t grant the city’s requests because they require FAA approval.
“Now, because we have appealed, the discussion is between the FAA and the city, which we didn’t have before,” he said.
Merolla said, “A lot could be settled if they come to the table in a reasonable period of time.”
Asked why the council rejected a proposed RIAC agreement offered in 2010 instead of using it, at that time, as the starting point for negotiations, Merolla said it is the mayor’s responsibility to negotiate contracts.
Merolla said the council articulated its concerns to the mayor in an executive session, but that neither the administration nor RIAC returned with an amended agreement that addressed those concerns. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who sponsored the resolution to appeal the decision, referred all questions to Taber.
City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero could not be reached for the specifics of Taber’s agreement. The FAA did not return a call.