November 23, 2014
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Airport projects running under budget
Wetlands permit approved for runway safety area

Kelly Fredericks has a plan for the first flight to use an extended Green Airport runway on Dec. 7, 2017 … and so far it is coming together just the way he had hoped. And even better, it’s coming together under budget.

In recent weeks, bids for the construction of the relocated Winslow Park softball and soccer fields came in $1.4 million under budget. Then, last Friday the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) approved a wetlands permit enabling the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) to extend the safety area of the shorter of the two runways. And on Tuesday, RIAC opened bids for the second phase of runway safety area improvements – the first round that included demolition of Hangar 1 was finished late last year – and they, too, were under budget … way under budget. RIAC estimated costs on the second phase of safety improvements at $30.2 million and Cardi Construction, the apparent low bidder, put the job at $19.8 million.

“Even at $30 million we would have been in good shape,” an elated Fredericks said.

Before awarding the bid – one of three ranging from Cardi’s low to a high of $24 million – RIAC will review all aspects of the work and seek Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of the project.

Fredericks is hopeful of convincing the FAA to allow RIAC “to keep” the savings between the estimated and actual cost as a contingency for the remaining two major airport projects. They are the relocation of Main Avenue that is slated to start next year and the extension of Runway 5-23 and parallel taxiway the following year.

Fredericks said the state is in a competitive construction market at the moment, “but that may not be the case in two years from now.”

The Winslow Park playing fields relocation was projected to cost $8,035,890. JH Lynch bid $5,697,600 and once engineering and utility fees are included, the cost is $6,662,762, a $1,373,128 savings.

The first phase of runway safety improvements that involved demolition of Hangar 1 also was under budget.

That project was projected to cost $3,914,307, but came in at $1,412,976.

The City Council approved the wetland permit enabling extension of Runway 34 with recommendations to DEM earlier this year.

“We’re excited,” Fredericks, RIAC President and CEO, said of the wetlands permit. “It’s a huge critical milestone in our schedule.”

The wetlands permit, which enables RIAC to extend the safety area into the Buckeye Brook wetlands by taking mitigation measures elsewhere in the wetlands, was the most complicated permits Charles Horbert, DEM wetland supervisor for DEM’s Division of Water Resources, said he has worked on.

In an interview Monday, Horbert said multiple issues, including the FAA safety standards; environmental considerations of the brook that supports an annual herring run; access to a residential neighborhood; the presence of peat and requests of the city and the Buckeye Brook Coalition all played into the process.

In the end, he said, the department concluded that the mitigation efforts proposed by RIAC are equivalent or greater than the wetlands lost.

He said the loss of wetlands at the end of Runway 34 represents the largest taking of wetlands he has seen the department permit. But to offset that, RIAC is proposing unifying wetlands north of the Lakeshore Drive culvert, which the city planner highly favors, plus wetlands expansion south of the runway safety area and a new and larger Lakeshore Drive culvert.

DEM denied the city’s and the coalition’s request that RIAC expand wetlands into the brook watershed beyond the runway area under consideration. Horbert said DEM felt RIAC had fulfilled its requirements with what it proposed.

RIAC didn’t get everything it requested. A sub drain in the safety area that RIAC believed necessary to discourage wildlife was rejected. Horbert said DEM felt proper grading would eliminate the possibility of standing water. Also, in order to create a stable foundation for the safety area, RIAC will need to excavate peat that could be 15 feet deep. Clean fill would be used to replace the peat.

Of concern to the city and council is the former Truk Away landfill. In considering the wetlands application, the council requested that DEM require a proper capping of the landfill, which is believed to be polluting the brook.

“We consider that to be a separate issue,” said Horbert. “It’s of concern to us.”

While the former landfill is on DEM’s “radar,” Horbert said DEM didn’t want to do anything that could make things worse. Also, DEM considered the council’s request to elevate the Lakeshore Drive roadbed at the culvert to meet 25-year flood levels. Horbert said it is not known what impact that might have on flooding above and below the culvert and therefore was not included as a stipulation of the permit.

The permit is good through July 1, 2016. It limits work to July 1 through Sept. 15, so as not to interfere with either the spawning cycle of herring or the return of juvenile fish to the bay. An open channel must be maintained during construction, Horbert said.

Fredericks said he hoped construction of the Runway 34 safety area would start in the first or second week of June.

“The level of cooperation of government agencies was impressive,” said Fredericks.

In a statement released by her office, DEM Director Janet Coit said, “After a thorough and careful process, I am pleased to see the permit for this important runway safety project move forward.”

City Planner William DePasquale said Monday DEM’s approval keeps RIAC on track.

“Time was of essence,” he said.

While some issues raised by the city and council were not included in the overall permit requirements, DePasquale said he can understand why DEM was hesitant to deviate from the plan as they “didn’t want any unintended consequences.”


Comments
3 comments on this item

Has anybody opened up the airport's budget to see what is actually there?

Presumably Mr. Fredericks will be making his presentation to the General Assembly on this item within the next month or so. The safety improvement and runway expansion budget calls for about $100 million in FAA grants through 2018. The big problem with this is RIAC's small hub designation which puts it in direct competition with dozens of other small airports - many of whom have a greater need and better connections to the Republicans who control the House of Representatives. The House of course wants to cut back on FAA grants and use the funds for general network safety improvements like NextGen.

And none of this meets the original need to rebuild Runway 16-34. That reason for the EIS is totally ignored until after 2020. How RIAC can come up with the funds for that deferred maintenance project is totally beyond me.

The budget calls for $31 million in "RIAC bonds" -- actually Economic Commerce bonds - similar to the 38 Studios bonds - paid for through passenger facility charges - the most expensive way for an airport to borrow money. The budget calls for a debt service of $4 million per year which is about four times the debt service for the glycol plant for a similar size borrowing. On top of that the budget is calling for $7.2 million in direct passenger facility payments - money that won't exist because all passenger facility charges will be applied to the expensive $31 million bond offering according to RIAC documents.

Project success is dependent on whether the bond rating agencies agree to the $31 million borrowing plan RIAC has with about $4 million debt service - a scenario that at least one agency warned RIAC could not be done without a large increase in passenger counts. That is one of the reasons Mr. Fredericks keeps saying better days are coming. If the passengers don't start flocking to Green in droves, then he has no leverage with the bond rating agencies. If the borrowing sputters out or the Republicans kill large portions of FAA grants -- a likely scenario - then RIAC will have spent $6.6 million to move the ball fields to no end except to expose the kids to truly retched air from the jet fumes as the jets spew their exhaust directly into the kids lungs at ground level.

We need to see the plans for Main Avenue. Will there be two sidewalks? Will the lane separations be up to spec. Is this curving bypass going to be another Newport Bridge with no lane separations when the same could have been built in? How about the intersection with Industrial Drive? How safe will that be? How will the curving road be marked for night time driving? How about provisions for the massive snow piles that pop up from the drifting snow?

Lots of questions are still unanswered.

Please forgive my ignorance. What about the glycol treatment plant? The last I remember reading about its projected cost, is that it was ANTICIPATED to be over budget(probably one of the reasons why RIAC would hope to keep ANY cost savings on the other projects). Of course the level of government agency cooperation is impressive; its still early in the project's phase & it's an election year. When was the last time a major construction project was on time & under budget in RI? Early in 2015, we will see if Green Airport achieves its goal of 4,000,000 passengers.

DEM will need to address the Truk Away landfill problem at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, to avoid any unintended/unforeseen problems that may/can occur.

It's nice to have a state of the art, first class airport where long distance, non stop flights are available to the west coast or Europe on a regular basis. But the main issue will be COST. Southwest, or any other airline, will determine where its CHEAPER & more feasible to fly in & out of because that's what passengers do. If it costs more to fly in & out of Green Airport as it does now, that won't change the airlines" flight decisions/options.

Unless you want to go to Disney World or Baltimore you are going to pay very high prices for domestic flights this spring/summer. Who wants to pay $800 for a round trip to Charlotte? So, even if airlines increase the number of seats available, they will not get more passengers unless/until they drop the prices. And what motivation do they have to do that? None. Green is no longer a "low cost" airport.

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