October 23, 2014
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Building on common ground

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) has a plan. And the city of Warwick knows what to expect, now that it has a memorandum of understanding that defines when people can expect to receive offers to buy out their property; how much longer RIAC will be responsible for air and water quality monitoring; and a proposal for the relocation of the Winslow Park athletic fields.

It has taken a long time to get here – about a decade. It has also taken a lot of money. Estimates on the environmental impact studies done on various iterations of runway expansion projects put the tab at $12 million, although a firm answer from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is elusive.

Time and money are certainly measurements but, like a pair of shoes, if they don’t fit, the investment doesn’t matter.

For RIAC and the FAA, the plan to extend the runway from 7,166 to 8,700 feet carries risk. There’s no guarantee that simply providing a runway capable of offering longer non-stop flights will convince airlines to offer the service to West Coast cities or international destinations. The market will decide that. And should the market not be there – should a longer runway not result in an increase in service – it means existing Green users will bear the cost of the increased debt.

That’s a big “If.” Is it one that could also leave the community holding the short end of the stick?

That’s a question residents, businesses, the city administration and the City Council have been asking for years. There’s no single answer because the airport affects the community in so many different ways.

The noise and the pollutants have always been issues. And they must be addressed. But there are other matters that come under the heading of Warwick issues. Those questions include what a longer runway and improved safety areas on the shorter crosswind runway will mean to local traffic. Portions of Main Avenue and Airport Road must be relocated to accommodate the projects. There’s more. What is to become of historic cemeteries in the path of the longer runway? What will the loss of houses and businesses mean to local taxes and the stock of affordable housing? How will the longer runway impact the St. Rose of Lima and Wickes Schools that are just outside the contour where RIAC is acquiring properties?

These and many more issues were studied and, in the end, the city administration saw little prospect of gaining more by challenging the FAA. The City Council thought otherwise.

We won’t know if, instead of rejecting it, the council sought to build upon the agreement Mayor Scott Avedisian negotiated almost two years ago, whether the outcome would be different.

What the last couple of weeks has demonstrated is that a community of diverse interests can come together and can reach agreement. The parties, especially Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Ward 3) and RIAC CEO Kevin Dillon, are to be congratulated.

There’s a lot a stake here.

And, as RIAC Board Chair Dr. Kathleen Hittner observed last Thursday, this process has forged new relationships and appreciation of what we all face together.

Let’s build on that.


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