Paul Earnshaw, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, calls the extension of the safety area to the shorter of Green’s two runways a “major win for the brook.”
In an interview Tuesday before the coalition’s 10th annual meeting, Earnshaw explained that initial proposals for the extension at the east end of the runway called for taking 14 acres of the brook’s wetlands. The plan approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last September would only impact about 5 acres of the wetlands, he said.
The proposal calls for the use of an engineered material arresting system, or EMAS, at both ends of the runway. The system uses a form of concrete that intentionally crumbles under the weight of an aircraft that overshoots the runway to slow it down. It reduces the length of the safety area to meet FAA standards by about a third. The drawback is that it is more costly.
The EMAS will reduce encroachment into the wetlands to the east. On the west end of the runway, it will enable the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) to meet the standard without shortening the overall length of the runway, or reconfiguring Post Road.
But, while Earnshaw is happy the alteration of wetlands won’t be as dramatic as first proposed, he thinks the airport should be doing much more to improve the brook. The brook supports one of the state’s few unobstructed spring herring runs. The fish enter the system from Mill Cove and run upstream to Warwick Pond. They also continue north from the pond, cross under Airport Road through a culvert and find their way into Spring Green Pond.
“I would like to see them clean up their act on their property,” said Earnshaw. He said there are aircraft and truck tires in the brook and along its banks. In addition, he said the airport has cut brush near the brook that has promoted the growth of invasive plants.
“There’s been such degradation,” he said.
As part of the overall plan for airport projects, mitigation and offsetting projects have been planned to compensate for the loss of wetlands. One of the projects is the preservation of the Mill Cove salt marsh off Point Avenue in Conimicut. While Earnshaw favors preservation of the marsh, he points out that it is not directly part of the brook wetlands. He would prefer that mitigation programs for loss of the brook wetlands directly benefit the brook.
The City Council and RIAC have reached a memorandum of understanding whereby the council will drop its suit challenging the extension of the airport’s longer runway and RIAC will move ahead with the projects. Last week, RIAC CEO Kevin Dillon said work would start at the west end of the runway, requiring the acquisition of 11 businesses and the relocation of the Post and Airport Road intersection.
Work at the other end, he said, probably wouldn’t start for another year. As there will be alterations to the wetlands, the work will require City Council approval of a wetlands permit.
Earnshaw also has some reservations about the $25 million de-icing fluid recovery system RIAC has agreed to build as part of its water discharge permit. Presently, the airport uses vacuums to recover about 40 percent of the glycol sprayed on aircraft to prevent the buildup of ice. The rest of it finds its way into the storm drainage system and, eventually, the brook. The system RIAC proposes to build would capture 60 to 65 percent of the fluid.
“It’s a lot of money for a small percentage more,” Earnshaw said. He further notes there’s no guarantee the system will be built, as the permit says it is contingent upon funding.
As for the memorandum of understanding, Earnshaw applauds the provision that RIAC will provide $5,000 annually to the URI Watershed Watch, for training and to conduct sampling of the Greenwich Bay watershed. He notes that the RIAC commitment is for seven years and asks what will happen after that period. Further, he said, “it doesn’t look at the effects on Buckeye Brook.”
About 30 members attended the meeting held in the Warwick Library. Plans were discussed for the annual brook fish count and the annual Earth Day cleanup was scheduled for April 21 and 22. George Shuster was elected vice-president and Bill Aldrich, treasurer.
Ray Hartenstine gave a presentation on mussels and the health of Warwick Pond.
The coalition also geared up for the annual fish count that will begin April 1 and run through about May 15.
Short 10-minute training sessions by Phil Edwards from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will be held Thursday, March 22 between 5 and 6 p.m. and Saturday, March 24 from 10 to 11 a.m. at the fish count location in the northwest corner of the Knights of Columbus parking lot near the intersection of Sandy Lane and Warwick Avenue. Training is either individual or is done in groups, depending on who is present at any given moment throughout the hour.
“It is easy and fun,” assures Earnshaw.
“For those who have not participated before, the commitment once you are trained is only to show up once or twice per week on the appointed day,” he explains. The commitment involves about 10 minutes and, as Earnshaw says, “provides very valuable data from year to year.”