Hurry up and wait.
That is the way some have looked at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s (RIAC) rush to reach an agreement with the City Council over the airport’s plan to extend Runway 5-23 to 8,700 feet. Kevin Dillon, RIAC CEO and president, said a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was needed in order to meet the March 1 deadline to file for federal funding. With that date in mind, the parties met feverously to reach an understanding that came in principle with no time to spare.
RIAC filed an application for $64 million by the deadline, although the council didn’t ratify the MOU, which would clear the way of legal challenges.
Following the council’s action, Dillon thought it would be only a couple of weeks before the agreement gained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval and RIAC would get the green light.
When that didn’t happen, speculation was rampant that the FAA had problems with the MOU or that, perhaps, the council had struck such a good deal that the FAA feared other municipalities would take the route of Warwick and bring legal action that could delay, or halt, airport projects.
If that was the case, the FAA makes no reference to it in a letter received yesterday by council members and the city. Addressed to Dillon, the FAA approves of the MOU with some conditions and recommendations.
Mary T. Walsh, FAA division manager for the New England Region, commends Dillon for “your efforts to reach out to the city of Warwick and to consider and address their concerns while prioritizing and advancing the safety and efficiency improvements at the T.F. Green Airport.”
Walsh’s 3-page letter clarifies actions that are consistent with federal regulations including such items as those properties eligible for sound insulation, the procedure for property acquisitions and sales and the rezoning of property to be reused. On what has been a particularly sensitive issue, the relocation of the Winslow Park ball fields, Walsh noted that the FAA record of decision did not contemplate the relocation of two small instructional fields; changes in the mitigation site would require additional “appropriate environmental review” and that the relocation can occur once “applicable” requirements are met.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who led the council challenge and chaired the airport litigation committee, was pleased with the development.
“I’m really happy that the FAA had the opportunity to review the MOU and is in basic agreement with the way that RIAC and the City Council have agreed to move forward,” she said. “They haven’t had any real substantial disagreements with our plans. Right now, we’re waiting for the attorneys for both the City Council and RIAC to complete their discussion on how we proceed and what the next steps are.”
Senator Jack Reed, who was interviewed earlier in the day and at the time did not know of the development, said the FAA was looking at the MOU “very closely” at the highest levels and that he is continuing to push for funding of the project.
“The letter doesn’t have any real substantial changes, which is good news,” Vella-Wilkinson said.
“I understand that when you are dealing with any matter of controversy, there are always going to be people who disagree with the direction that you move in. But, I believe that the Airport Litigation Committee working on the foundation created by department heads, with the approval of the City Council, was a comprehensive document that represented so many of the voices of Warwick. While some people are dissatisfied with it, the majority of our constituents, both individuals and business owners, are very satisfied. I’m looking forward to getting the final details worked out between the attorneys so we can start taking action.”
Once the parties have signed a settlement, the City Council will drop its appeal of the FAA decision approving the runway extension and longer runway safety areas at both ends of the shorter Runway 16-34.
With reports by Jessica Botelho.