Kevin Dillon left yesterday’s meeting – with the committee overseeing the council’s appeal of the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of a longer Green Airport runway – with a list.
That’s a big step toward negotiating an agreement that would give the Rhode Island Airport Corporation the green light to airport projects.
Dillon, RIAC CEO, could not talk about the list because he and committee members are sworn to secrecy.
“I respect the agreement we have that we don’t talk about this,” he said. Dillon could not say when the parties would meet again, but he expects it to be as soon as next week.
Yesterday was the third meeting since the council voted in November to hire aviation attorney Steve Taber to petition for a review of the FAA’s record of decision.
Since then, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the trades unions have stepped up their campaign for council endorsement of the projects they say will create much-needed jobs.
And the pressure on council members has been building.
Over the past several days, Gov. Lincoln Chafee personally called council members, asking them to drop the lawsuit so construction can start. Yesterday, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo joined the ranks favoring the project.
She was at the City Hall Annex for the 15-minute public comment portion of the meeting that actually extended beyond a half hour.
Raimondo asked council members to look at the short and long term impacts of their action…“the big picture.” She said the longer runway and other improvements would enhance the state’s transportation infrastructure, create jobs and “increase total economic growth.” She called that significant, adding that the growth and development have a positive impact on the bond rating and business environment.
“I’m here to say, let’s get it done,” she said.
In response, committee member and Council President Bruce Place said, “I agree with every single word you just said.”
To Dillon’s confessed amazement at the conclusion of the public session, Place went on to say, “I think we’re on the same page.”
Place said the council is seeking assurance on “some of the small items.” He pulled out an email from Greeley Avenue resident Lena Elliott who Place said has lived in her house for more than 40 years and now faces uncertainty.
He said the council has a “commitment” to Elliott and Warwick residents to ensure their questions are answered and their interests are represented.
Place said, in his opinion, RIAC and the council are “very close” on environmental issues involving water quality.
And, to demonstrate his endorsement of airport improvements and the Interlink, which collectively he estimated to be a $500 million investment, Place said, “This is the biggest piece of economic development the state has ever seen.”
As in prior public sessions, union representatives painted a bleak picture of the economy and the need to get the project moving to create jobs in the upcoming construction season.
But even if the council drops the appeal now, Dillon said RIAC would have difficulty pulling the pieces together in time to start this year. He said RIAC faces a March 1 deadline to apply for federal funding. In order to do that, he said he needs an understanding of the full extent of those projects that might include requests by the council. In addition, he observed, bond-rating agencies would be reluctant to proceed with financing if the threat of litigation lingers.
Richard Langseth, who has regularly appeared before the committee, claimed RIAC is facing a financial crisis that is being hidden, since financial documents aren’t being released as he has requested.
He said, “The only way RIAC delivers on its promises is if they have the funds to do so.” And he cautioned if the authority has to dip into its reserves it would adversely impact its bond ratings.
Before the executive session with the committee, Dillon called Langseth’s statement “patently false.” Later yesterday afternoon, he said that the finance and audit committees wouldn’t release its report until March and at that time they would be made available to Langseth.
Directing his comments to labor leaders, Michael Zarum, who is also a regular at the committee meetings, said there are “a lot of myths” over the need for an 8,700-foot runway. He said an 8,300-foot runway would fit the purpose and need and, in the process, cause far less disruption to the community.
“It seems to imply,” he said of those that have questioned the decision to appeal, “because it’s [the airport] a state issue, local concerns don’t apply.”
Zarum said there is a process to protect the public and he accused Chafee of interfering with it. A third resident and frequent attendee, Janice Pangman, said the matter is about the public safety and health and “take care of that first.”
Among issues council members have identified are the relocation of the Winslow Park playing fields, a timetable and funding for the acquisition of homes and businesses impacted by the airport projects, air quality monitoring and taxes lost with the loss of homes and businesses.