September 2, 2014
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Council asked to drop FAA appeal

On Monday night, a delegation of business and union leaders is expected to ask the City Council to reconsider their action to appeal a ruling enabling the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) to move ahead with projects to extend one runway and add safety improvements to another.

The action is being coordinated by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades Council and comes as council members have indicated their willingness to talk with RIAC and possibly reach an agreement before pursuing the petition filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.

“We need to move forward on the modernization and safety improvements at Green Airport,” Chamber President and CEO Laurie White said yesterday. She added that the council’s petition for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to review its record of decision could delay the projects by as much as 15 months.

“We strongly believe this is not in the best interests of the citizens,” she said.

White sees the delegation’s mission as a follow-up to the letter that was hand delivered to council members Thanksgiving weekend, asking that they reconsider their action. She hopes the council will do that Monday. She said she would speak on behalf of the business leaders and that the building trades and unions would provide a spokesperson for their point of view. She said the delegation would number about a dozen people.

Greg Mancini, executive director and general counsel for the trades council that represents contractors and unions, said he hopes to speak as an advocate for economic development. He said he sees the proposal to extend the runway from 7,166 to 8,700 feet and other improvements as a long-term benefit for the state.

“I hope RIAC and the council can work out the issues,” he said.

RIAC President and CEO Kevin Dillon said he has seen e-mails relative to Monday’s council meeting. Asked if the agency played a role in orchestrating a turnout he said, “We did not have a hand in it.”

Dillon said he has been getting calls ever since it got out that the council challenged the decision but, as for working with groups, he said they’re their own independent organizations: “They certainly don’t work for the airport.”

The delegation was news to City Council President Bruce Place, who questioned whether the group would have the chance to speak, since there is nothing on the docket relative to the airport.

“I don’t know where they would fit in,” he said in a telephone call. “They’re not on the agenda.”

However, it appears that the delegation and members of the public would be able to speak at the second meeting of the month, under a resolution approved by the council last month, during Place’s absence.

The measure was signed by the mayor on Nov. 29 and provides for a 15-minute public comment session at the conclusion of the meeting. However, the provision does not apply to the first meeting of the month.

Another option is for a council member to call for a reconsideration of the vote. In order for that to be docketed, it would have to happen prior to Friday in order to be posted on the Secretary of State website and there would need to be five affirmative votes.

Place said he is not aware that any council member would make such a request.

Place reiterated his willingness “to sit down and talk with anybody at any time” to resolve issues with the airport projects. He said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the airport addresses air and water quality concerns.

Place suggested having Steven Taber, the California aviation attorney the council has retained to appeal the decision, attend a special executive session of the council “to explain where we are.”

“I don’t think anyone in the council is anti-economic development,” he said in response to arguments that an appeal would chill redevelopment in the intermodal district and stymie airport related business growth.

Earlier this week, Ward 7 Councilman Charles Donovan Jr., who said he had talked with Taber, urged the council to enter into discussions with RIAC in the next two months. He said he saw no purpose to saying no just to say no. Also favoring opening talks with RIAC are Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who introduced the resolution, and Ward 8 Councilman Steve Merolla, who has been especially vocal about an appeal. Merolla wants to see a timetable for acquisitions of properties and improvements such as a de-icing fluid collection system RIAC says it must have operational by 2015 as mandated by environmental regulations. The system is projected to cost $25 million and Merolla has questioned how RIAC would fund it.

Vella-Wilkinson said an “enforceable” agreement with RIAC could be a “win-win” for the city and RIAC. On Tuesday, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, who has also been a critic of the airport project, saying the health and safety of residents should take a priority, said he too favors an agreement over a court battle.

Mayor Scott Avedisian did not sign the resolution to appeal. The administration maintains there are few grounds on which to appeal and that the effort would simply delay the inevitable outcome and be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Further, the administration points out, the council rejected a memorandum of agreement worked out more than a year ago that addressed issues now being raised by council members. Although Dillon welcomed counter proposals from the council, none were made.

Avedisian was not in town yesterday, but his chief of staff Mark Carruolo thought council efforts to talk with RIAC make sense.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We spoke with at least eight law firms and they said the best action is to reach an agreement that would be recognized by FAA.”

In their letter, the chamber and the trades council wrote:

“There is no denying that Rhode Island is at a crossroads. The current economic climate makes it even more important that we come together as a community to support this process and work with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the FAA to push for completion of this important economic development project.”

It goes on to say, “This process has gone on for far too long. Now is the time to move forward, and to prepare for an economic landscape that looks very different from today. Green Airport is an indispensable public facility that connects Rhode Island to a universe of economic opportunity and we need to ensure the facility’s competitiveness.”

Since the council action, City Planner William DePasquale said he has received about a dozen calls from residents and businesses questioning how it would impact them. He described the tenor of the calls as “bewilderment.” He also said he has had calls from residents supporting the action and that “health and safety trumps the cost [of bringing legal action].”


Comments
6 comments on this item

The most pressing issue for the people of Rhode Island is the creation of jobs. The Providence Chamber of Commerce needs to be reminded of this.

The cost for airline operations is an important component of jobs creation. Now that airline costs are going through the roof, we are seeing airlines cutting back on operations.

Somehow RIAC needs to deal with this increasing cost problem. The Providence Chamber of Commerce needs to recognize this problem too. When airline operations are cut back because of excessive airport costs right now -- long before any extension is built, then out of state employers are far less likely to locate businesses here.

Let's compare T.F. Green Airport to Eppley Field on the Nebraska/Iowa border. Roughly the same number of passengers. Very similar infrastructure. Both facilities are nice. Both airport authorities borrowed to build new facilities. But Eppley costs the airlines less than half the cost of Green. Which airport would a new business want when considering relocating a plant or office complex to the area? This is what the chamber needs to focus on.

All the Providence Chamber needs to do is ask RIAC how much the cost of operations to the airlines will increase to cover the $10 million per year or so in increased debt service to cover the extension financing. Given that increase, then what number of reduced operations does RIAC expect or worse yet, what airlines will pull out.

Sure, the Providence Chamber wants to comment on the City Council's action. But, the chamber needs to realize that opening up the meeting for those comments also opens it up for citizen comments too. Given that, the chamber needs to prepare for the answer about how the loss of airline operations or the departure of airlines themselves will impact the chamber's ability to attract new employers to Rhode Island.

Because the creation of jobs should be the chamber's mission, not the unsustainable building of useless infrastructure at great cost to the taxpayers of Rhode Island

This has gone on long enough it is time to commit to the overall growth of the state .The state is going to spiral further into economic turmoil ! People are leaving the city of warwick and the state.Look at the declining enrollment in our schools. We need to do something now , not in some distant future! Let the airport grow.

REMINDER TO LAURIE WHITE AND THE CITY COUNCIL

1) The City Council is 1st Responsible to its constituents', their health, welfare, and preservation of their property

2) Laurie White represents special interest groups, not Warwick constituents;;

3) Laurie White, the Providence Chamber of Providence, The Go Green Alliance and their affiliated special interest groups are a major lobbying group that have systematically spread myths about the airport.

4) One of these myths is that an 8,700' runway is needed to fly to the west cost. An 8.700' runway is not needed.

5) The other myth they've propagated is that the airport is going to rescue the state economy. The airport is not going to rescue the RI economy. RI has lost manufacturing industry, defense industry, has high energy costs, and a government that cannot control costs. A longer runway is not going to help that.

6) While the airport contributes to the regional economy, it is at the expense of local community and others. Laurie White is advocating to stuff the pockets of union members at the expense of others, at the expense of the general public, and airline customers, This kind of pandering to special interest has no place before a city council who's mission is to protect its constituents.

7) All the media blasts about RIAC, The Providence Chamber of Commerce, Union Groups etc. The Petition for Review is not an appeal against RIAC, the Respondents named do not include RIAC, therefore RIAC and Laurie White of the Providence Chamber of Commerce should stay out of this and let the review take place without unduly influencing a public process.

8) The Challenge of the FAA Record of Decision is part of the NEPA Process designed to protect the public and fully disclose impact. Those close familiar with the NEPA Process know that in most instances, their is inadequate analysis and inadequate disclosure, lack of full disclosure. By advocating for Special Interest Groups and requesting the Warwick City Council to support special interest groups over its constituents, Laurie White is seriously misinformed individual and appears to not support a process designed to protect the public.

9) The is nothing in the appeal that would prevent RIAC from moving forward at this point. They are free to move forward with their mitigation plans now, and the fact that RIAC has a history of non-compliance, attempts at lobbying to exempt itself from compliance with public laws, the fact they currently do not have sufficient fund to mitigate show true cause for concern and support the city councils decision to have to FAA's record of decision reviewed.

10) Ms. White and the Providence Chamber of Commerce need to get their facts straight and stop misinforming the public. The appeal filed is for a REVIEW, not to stop the work. In fact, if Ms. White had read the Notice in the FAA Record of Decision, she would know that the appeal filed is for a REVIEW, and a separate action needs to be filed to stop the project from progressing. The words are right there for you to read Ms. White, stop your myths and stop misinforming the public and city council.

11) MYTHS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND HOW RIAC'S PLANS ARE DETRIMENTAL TO THE RI ECONOMY.

a) Costs of needlessly expanding TF Green will needlessly add to airport operating costs and increase ticket costs and increase the cost for airlines to operate out of TF Green. That's not the way to bring more business here. In fact, what is proposed is a way to make the price of doing business here more costly. Airline operating costs will go up, prices of passenger wickets will go up, and RIAC could become the next state agency to need a bail out at taxpayer expense.

b) Overspending by Public Agencies: We are in times of a downsized economy, and Rhode Islanders need to face the facts that managing in a downsized economy means government fiscal restraint to match. It has already been shown, that over-investment of public funds to stimulate an economy when there is no real (marginal) demand, only creates more public debt that can't be paid back, and that results in failed institutions. Will RIAC be the next? RIAC cannot afford what it has proposed and that includes required mitigation and the General Assembly still has failed its due diligence of financial risk analysis on impact to taxpayers, in the event RIAC and EDC default on bonds, how much will it cost the RI Public?

c) The appeal requesting a review of the FAA decision is that and only that. A review. If all is the way RIAC claims, then they have no need to worry and should sit back let the process proceed as is design by law. The action filed in court doesn't even mention RIAC. There is plenty of unused capacity at TF Green, passenger counts continue to drop, airlines continue to fly smaller and smaller aircraft, and with that its better to try and cut operating costs at the airport to keep the airlines here.

d) Please do not forget that several years ago the RIAC board approved a 7.700' runway. That is more than adequate. And had that decision not been thrown a side by political interests more motivated by financial greed, that runway extension would already be complete with less impact on the community and more economically efficient airport.

Closing notes on myths - Media's disservice to the public. Misinforming the public and spreading myths without investigating media blasts from RIAC.

If one reads media headlines about the City of Warwick's decision to file a Petiton for Review, its clear the media has made the focus RIAC and a proposed longer runway, when that's not what its about. There are many more issues involved. What it is about, is full disclosure and compliance with local, state and federal laws designed to protect the public.

How can anyone be against full disclosure and compliance with local, state and federal laws designed to protect the public?

To Mr Bernard:

The airport could grow right now if it had the financial ability to do so. But it needs a big federal handout to do so. Congress is gutting the federal budget leaving no money for RIAC to extend the runway from federal sources.

The bottom line is that RIAC chooses not to spend its free $38 million on the runway extension. You should suggest to Mr. Dillon that he propose to the RIAC board that RIAC spends its own money on the runway.

FROM THE FAA / RIAC MASTER PLAN

Demand/Capacity and Facility Requirements

"Providing a facility before it is needed is not financially prudent and

would not likely receive environmental approval."

Master Plan Forecast for 2010 Annual Operations as 194.740 operations

Actual Annual Operations for 2010 was less than 82,000 operations.

Yes, traffic at TF Green for 2010 was approx 58% less than RIAC forecasted in the Master Plan.

When will the media start to do investigative reporting rather than just print misinformation provided by special interest groups vying to stuff their pockets with federal money?

It is a myth that the runway needs to be extended to 8,700' to make it to the west coast.

There are many issues other than the runway length that need to be resolved before moving forward. Some of those include compliance, permitting and funding, and there is insufficient funding at this time and no one at this point knows what will be available for funding going forward.

Well, the chamber went packing back to Providence. The meeting was not posted. Perhaps they should talk to the General Treasurer about how this proposal will be funded before coming back.

It is very important for the mayor to lead the charge to get a financial handle on what is happening at RIAC. Neighbors were in tears at the meeting Monday night when they heard RIAC officials report that there is no money to complete this project.

The FAA will probably shut down on February 1, 2012 when its existing funding runs out. Flights will continue and towers will be manned. But, grant applications will be thrown into a big pile of things to do when somebody figures out how to pay for such projects as the RIAC mess.

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