October 25, 2014
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Council working on demands of airport

In the words of Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) CEO Kevin Dillon, “time is of the essence.”

But so far nothing substantial has come out of the City Council’s appeal for a review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision of approval of T.F. Green Airport projects, including the extension of the main runway from 7,166 to 8,700 feet.

That may change when a council committee and RIAC representatives meet for the first time on Jan. 20 at City Council Chambers. The committee will hold a brief, probably no more than a 15-minute, session at which it will accept public comment before going into executive session to discuss what it would hope to gain in exchange for dropping the appeal.

Since the council voted to retain California aviation lawyer Steve Taber to challenge the FAA record of decision issued in September, the three-member committee has met twice for a total of about five hours. There has been some discussion with RIAC attorney and lobbyist K. Joseph Shekarchi, but no formal request has been forwarded to RIAC.

By this time, Dillon had hoped for some correspondence and a beginning of talks.

“It’s disappointing,” he said Monday, “we had hoped to meet as soon as possible.”

Dillon is hopeful of reaching an agreement so as to apply for federal funding and start construction of the projects, the first of which would be runway safety areas to the shorter runway requiring the acquisition of 10 Airport Road businesses so as to realign the Airport and Post Road intersection.

“I think every day that goes by keeps people in a state of uncertainty,” Dillon said. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who chairs the committee said yesterday, “we’re interested in having good solid communication with RIAC … we’re not playing games to drag our feet.” She plans to brief the council on their deliberations at the meeting and said that the committee’s intent is to come up with an agreement that is “fair and enforceable.” In arguing for the appeal, council members cited the need to ensure the health and safety of residents, assurances that home acquisitions would occur and that the Winslow Park ball fields lost to the runway extension would be relocated at RIAC’s expense. Also sought by the council was the guarantee that RIAC would take steps to further reduce the runoff of de-icing fluid into Buckeye Brook.

Committee member Councilman Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9) said Tuesday, because of the confidential nature of negotiations, he could not get into specifics. He said the effort “is moving forward” and that the lines of communication with Shekarchi are open. He said that Taber is available by telephone but he does not expect Taber would attend the Jan. 20 meeting.

“I suspect this is not going to be resolved in one meeting,” he said.

That’s hardly fast enough for Dillon.

“It’s a month after they [the committee] formed and we still don’t know [what the council is looking for]. It leaves a lot of questions,” he said.Vella-Wilkinson said yesterday the committee is moving deliberatively so as not to be in the situation where, because of its haste, it has missed something critical. As for the meeting on the 20th, she said she expects the parties would establish ground rules and listen to what RIAC has to say.“I want to let this happen organically. It’s premature to say what our expectations are,” she siad.

The longer the wait, Dillon implies the fewer options RIAC has to address council demands.

“Some have outdated our control at this point,” he said.

Ironically, since Dillon is looking to move on with talks, the FAA requested a 30-day extension of Taber’s request for backup data on the environmental impact statement on which the FAA based its decision. Vella-Wilkinson said the city had no objection to an extension, however, according to Dillon, it was denied by the court.

“All those documents have been available for quite some time,” Dillon said, adding that any further additional data could have been easily obtained by the city with a freedom on information request.

“I think we know the majority of what we want,” Merolla said.

In addition to Merolla and Vella-Wilkinson, Council President Bruce Place is a voting member of the committee. Non-voting members are City Planner William DePasquale and Council Solicitor John Harrington.

Mayor Scott Avedisian did not stand in the way of retaining Taber – the city budget includes $62,000 for airport litigation – although he does not support the action. Prior to issuance of the decision, the administration met with the council in executive session to review options. While it would delay the airport projects by as much as two years, the administration’s assessment was that, by and large, the FAA had covered its bases in the environmental impact statement and its chances of halting the projects were slim.

Much of what the council is now apparently looking to gain from RIAC appears to have been included in a memorandum of agreement the administration and RIAC hammered out two years ago. The council rejected the agreement, and as Dillon notes, never sought to re-open talks with a counter proposal.

Since the FAA decision, RIAC and the Department of Environmental Management have reached an agreement on a permit that will require the airport to install a system to capture and process de-icing fluid before discharging it into city sewers, thereby reducing pollution to Buckeye Brook. The system is estimated to cost $25 million and will capture 60 percent of the glycol used to de-ice planes.


Comments
11 comments on this item

I wish the city council would go with the flow on this project. Lets see the FAA, the Governor, the Mayor, all have given the project their blessings. This has been dragged out for too long. It sounds like RIAC has done its part and I'm sure will continue to do its part to satisfy the City of Warwick's request. Don't worry they will find a piece of land for the kids to play ball. I'm sure they will continue their environmental requirements otherwise they will be facing stiff fines. The EPA and DEM will be all over water pollution.

Please consider the people waiting for the airport to buy their homes once the project gets started. Also it will add to the safety of the airlines and residents by having that buffer zones.

Warwick needs to attract people to the city for revenue for our small businesses and big businesses a like. By putting Warwick on the map, combined with our great heritage we should attract people from all over the country and world for that matter to spend money here. I think tourism should be carefully considered for an increase in attraction to the city.

I propose a objective to start reviving and cleaning up this city. Vacant lots and buildings need to be monitored closely by minimum housing and action should be taken if it's an eye sore. The beaches should be kept clean. Fines for littering should be handed out. Parks should be kept clean and safe. Each summer it seems popular parks are getting trashed. I know in part it's the DEM and park rangers responsibility but perhaps the city can work closely with those agencies to make sure that people aren't trashing the parks. The only thing people understand are fines sad to say.

Yes we have all the big box stores on route 2 but they are everywhere. We need to do more if we are going to increase revenue for the business owners. Of course lower taxes would be nice as well.

I understand the city council is looking for exact dates from RIAC. I hope that RIAC cooperates with the city and gives the city council those re-assurances such as where the ball field will be moved and when. When the Main ave re-locating will begin, when the folks on the list for mandatory and volunteer buy back will get their offers etc... a time line needs to be presented to the council and made public.

I don't think our hard earned tax money should be spent on litigation against RIAC. Does the city really have the money to blow on litigation? Or, are they just going to raise our taxes for their cause?

Lets face the facts that the airport is never going to move to Quonset. The time has come and gone for that. In addition, the airport is not going anywhere. The people mover was built at a high cost. The parking garage is built on Jefferson Blvd. The trains are stopping and will continue to stop more frequently as the demand increases. The terminal is fairly new. All that is lacking is the longer runway to assure safety, and encourage all the airlines to do business in Warwick.

I was originally against the airport expansion but I do see the reasoning behind this project. Let's put our engineers and construction workers back to work building this project.

Yes let's make Warwick better by making the airport even bigger! The last comment said it would put Warwick on the map, I doubt it thats why they tell you you are landing in Providence. It would mean more noise, more homes destroyed, more pollution,more traffic, and destroying the fields families grew up and still play ball on. It would just make a mess of the city, and people wouldn't stay here they would use us like we use Logan airport, a connector not an attraction area. People would fly in here to get on a train,plane,car or whatever to go somewhere else. We would have no big attractions in Warwick to keep them here but a big noisy airport.

Note that the airlines headed by USAirways has revolted against a similar enlargement of Philadelphia International Airport. It is predicted that costs per enplanements there will rise to totally unsustainable levels, that the airport expansion will cost an entire year's profit for USAirways over a 20 year period. Southwest Airlines is already cutting service between Warwick and Philadelphia and USAirways the only airline left servicing Philadelphia threatens to pull out of that airport. When you add the costs to airlines here for the glycol management plant plus the 20% share of the costs of the safety improvements and all of the costs for mitigation, the runway extension, terminal and parking improvements to deal with the "increased passenger counts" you find that there is no way that the airlines are going to fly anything but commuter jets in and out of Green, if anything at all.

That is the risk that RIAC is pushing the city into - no air service at all if this project proceeds. Why do we care? Because tax revenue would drop if the hotels around the airport go belly up and the city would have a gaping hole where the airport used to be.

RIAC must prove to the General Treasurer that it has the financial capability to deal with all of this by January 31, 2012 - twenty days from now. This is a federal requirement. That may be one of the reasons why RIAC management is so itchy to push the city council into some kind of an agreement. But, unless passenger counts improve substantially RIAC will be unable to show this capacity to float more bonds and it will be forced to dip into its $40 million in cash to build the glycol plant. There is insufficient cash at RIAC to then meet the 20% local share for the safety improvements.

Should the City Council be asking the Circuit Court of Appeals to review RIAC's financial capabilities to build the facility? Of course it should because RIAC and the FAA have never addressed this issue in the environmental impact study and Record of Decision.

The airport construction at Philadelphia, where USAirways has hundreds of flights per day is to add a fifth (5th) runway and lengthen 2 others as well as many other undertakings that will cost billions. In the eyes of the proposers this should eliminate congestion and delays there which the PHL airport is famous for, and one of the reasons that Southwest is thinning out its flights there (including Green). Whether what they envision will work or not is up the experts in Pennsylvania.

The project here is to bring our two (2) useable runways up to modern standards for a medium size commercial airport and is a drop in the bucket toward what some planners want for Philadelphia. Of course in the eyes of Mr Langseth, any aviation story can be turned around into something anti-T. F. Green.

To Latitude41: The $500 million cost for improvements at Green may be a "drop in the bucket" compared to the $5 billion cost at Philadelphia. Philadelphia is about 10 times bigger than Green making the numbers about the same. Now USAirways is threatening to pull out of Philadelphia making life miserable for 60 percent of the passenger base there. That move would have a dramatic impact on Green.

Fitch Ratings reports on the Philadelphia recent bond offering: "(cost per enplanement) estimated at approximately $10.23 for fiscal year 2011. The CPE is projected to increase to approximately $13.5 by 2014 and possibly higher in later years in conjunction with a proposed capital enhancement program (CEP);"

Fitch Ratings has warned RIAC that further borrowing would cause a credit rating drop. This is not allowed under Rhode Island debt ceiling statute.

This $10.23 cost per enplanement is lower than Green's $11 or so cost. If RIAC somehow figured out how to get financing, the combination of the glycol plant and the safety improvements will drive Green's cost per enplanement up to around $16 or more.

Then the runway extension at Green would bump it up to over $30 per enplanement - a cost that will drive all the airlines out and probably force the airport to close the passenger terminal. The two are tied together. If USAirways pulls out of Philadelphia as threatened it would probably pull out of Green too if RIAC keeps moving forward with its expansion plan seeking out some crazy strategy to finance the "improvement."

That is why the runway expansion is a pipe dream.

You say it's just a "pipe dream".... yet it almost ready to break ground. As soon as the City Council gets their time line it should be a green light. Also, that's the idea to put Warwick on the map. Currently it says Providence, however hopefully that would change if Warwick actually was a place to stop by and do business and enjoy the sights. Airlines are not going to be "scared" away if they extend the run ways. That is the silliest thing I've ever heard. Airlines need to have T.F. Green on their list of places to fly to and from. It's good for business to have this location as their hub. Southwest alone has so much business from people flying south for the Winter. Not to mention to Disney. Perhaps now they will be able to offer more flights out to California so people can visit that Disney location. We all know how Mr. Langseth feels. I respect his opinion although it's old school thoughts. It's 2012 and we have to keep up with the times in order to grow. Whether you like it or not this is becoming a larger city. It's not the quiet farm town that it was 50-60 years ago. In fact, it will never be small and quiet again. Some folks may move, but others will move in to take their places. The city has a lot to offer. It's relatively inexpensive compared to some other cities in the state and much better off financially. So much gloom and doom on here. Not enough positivity!

Michael2012: This story about Philadelphia Airport and USAir is all over the Internet:

"US Airways balks at Philly airport expansion"

"The biggest airline in town says it doesn't want to pay for a new runway at the Philadelphia International Airport. The runway is part of a $6 billion expansion plan backed by the city, which says it will reduce delays."

The fact is USAirways, by far the largest airline at Philadelphia is actively campaigning to stop the expansion there.

Besides that, RIAC has not identified one penny that can be borrowed or otherwise lined up to pay for the expansion at Green. Its idea to use federal letters of credit to float bonds is very naive. No airport has been able to pull that off without showing a track record of increasing passenger counts. RIAC's passenger counts will be down once again for the calendar year 2011. Fitch ratings has warned RIAC that future borrowing will cause ratings downgrades. Such borrowing is not allowed by Rhode Island law - the debt ceiling statute.

This may all be "old school" but it is the way government operates around here - borrow to build. Now, in 2012, the borrowing party is over. This is not my opinion but that of Fitch Ratings and former General Treasurer Frank Caprio.

By the way where do you get the information that Warwick is "better off financially?" If that were true they would fix the fire code violations in the schools and the terrible roads residents face every day.

US Airways is doing poorly financially. Of course they are crying poverty. Are there any airlines in Rhode Island complaining about the expansion HERE? From what I hear they want it.

Yes, some of it will have to be loans. What project can be paid in full by cash in hand ?? Especially one of such magnitude. The interest rates are low so now is the time to take out a loan.

Roads... which roads are you talking about ??? Warwick has many state roads that are funded by the state not the city. So, if you're talking about Airport RD, West Shore RD, RT 2, Warwick Ave, Post Rd.... pretty much all the main arteries than it's not the City of Warwick to pay for. If you're talking about some of the side roads or neighborhood roads in my opinion I don't think they are that bad. In part thanks to a mild Winter. I haven't seen any pot holes. Most of the roads that need repair are the state owned roads... especially West Shore Rd.

No matter how good they make the roads the problem is when they dig them up for various projects such as Greenwich Ave (another state road). That is horrendous between Veterans Memorial Drive and East ave.

The fire codes I don't know about. But, perhaps the city will take all the money saved from the lack of Winter expenses and get that project done. Perhaps it's because the school dept. is always asking for more money!!! In fact, that is the biggest expense for the city is the public schools. They need to really take a close look at that budget and trim the fat big time! Perhaps close a high school? Do we really need all these high schools? But, this is getting away from the airport discussion.

You know it's hard to compare airports. Airports vary so much based on size, population, location, city and state, etc...

To Michael2012: USAirways is alive and well. It has dropped most of its Boeing 737 fleet in favor of Airbus. Airbus 319s and 320s are very effective short runway planes that do not need longer runways at Green or at Philadelphia for that matter. As demonstrated in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, USAirways will pull flights when provoked by overly ambitious airport authorities with plans to push airline operations costs through the roof. USAirways is sticking in at Green but could pull out at any time. That would be a disaster for RIAC.

Southwest has come out against higher airline prices at Green and is pulling more and more flights to Boston. Together Southwest and USAirways make up over 75 percent of the passengers at Green.

RIAC is in no position to borrow money to extend the main runway or for any other project. That's why the main runway extension project is DOA.

You're funny "doa" may be in your mind but to everyone else it's very close to going forward and breaking ground. Passenger numbers are down because of the economy. Once the economy builds up more speed it'll be high passenger numbers and high profits for the airlines.

Published today in Pennsylvania. USAirways has already pulled out of Pittsburgh over similar concerns leaving that airport a fiscal wreck. If it pulls out of Philadelphia there will be severe ramifications at T.F. Green. The airlines can and to pull out when the airports go too far with expansion plans. Where do you think the money is going to come from to extend Green's runway??????

Chester County Daily Local News

Airport expansion price scheme criticized

Published: Monday, January 16, 2012

US Airways said the economics of the expansion plan could force the airline to drastically reduce services.

Airport officials previously stated airport revenue bonds would constitute two-thirds of the expansion’s funding, while a variety of other funding sources — including user fees and additional grants — would make up the difference.

But US Airways’ analysis shows frightening numbers, Lehmacher said. Airline analysis shows the enhancement project threatens to raise airline costs by $3.6 billion over the next 13 years, he said.

“It’s easy to say just pass it on to the customer. But you have to keep in mind, the leisure customer is very price discriminate,” he said. “The ultimate reality is, we can divert services. We’re not at that point yet, but the economics are simple.”

And while the city has said the expansion plan would bring thousands of construction jobs, with fewer flights running into and out of the airport, airlines may cut back on employees, Lehmacher said.

However, Derenick-Lopez (Philadelphia Airport Spokesperson) said airport officials have yet to see any cost estimates from airlines as they continue to negotiate an agreement.

“We are currently negotiating the next use and lease agreement,” Derenick-Lopez said, adding that the current agreement expires at the end of the year. “We have a lot of time to negotiate.”

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