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Leaving his mark

A lot of people have said nice things about Kevin Dillon, who leaves the Rhode Island Airport Corporation this month to assume a similar position of president and CEO of the newly created Connecticut Airport Authority.

There’s no question Dillon leaves his mark here, although it seems to us the bigger part of what he has been able to accomplish is going unnoticed.

Dillon was handed the task of putting the airport’s 20-year master plan on the runway more than four years ago. The plan, and in particular, that aspect of it calling for a runway extension, was mired in confusion, distrust and public dissention.

Dillon, who built a runway extension to the Manchester, N.H. airport when he was there, was touted as the man who could do the same thing for Green. And, yes, he was able to get Federal Aviation Administration approval to lengthen Green’s main runway from 7,166 to 8,700 feet. Moreover, when the City Council challenged that decision, he worked with the council and its attorneys to come up with a memorandum of understanding that addresses key city concerns.

How did the “miracle worker,” as some call him, make that agreement happen when the previous six years of airport expansion plans was such a mess?

First, Dillon scaled back earlier plans and killed such outrageously expensive and land-altering proposals as tunneling Main Avenue under the runway, or extending the tarmac to the north and extending Route 37 to replace Airport Road. Comparatively, Dillon’s plan was a practical compromise.

Second, Dillon stayed on message and worked to get it out. He met with anyone and everybody who wanted to learn about and talk about the plan. He became the face of the plan, not the out-of-state consultants who, up until then, appeared to be running the show.

Dillon’s strategy was transparent and consistent. Not only did community leaders, but also the public came to understand where he was coming from.

And Dillon learned Rhode Island ways, as he witnessed in the last six months, when the unions and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce coalesced to urge the council not to sacrifice the jobs and economic opportunities that came with a longer runway. He learned how to rally reinforcements.

No question, the recession, which is largely blamed for the decrease in air traffic at Green [it didn’t hurt Dillon’s cause to have fewer flights rattling Warwick homes], helped set the stage. Just about anything that spells “jobs” gets a thumbs-up these days.

So, what has gone virtually unnoticed?

Dillon recognized early in the game that one of his biggest obstacles would be the uncertainty faced by homeowners in the path of the runway and its larger noise shadow. These would be the people most directly affected, and the ones who could most impact elected leaders. Dillon put the soundproofing program on hold and used those funds to expand the voluntary acquisition program. Plain and simple, he bought out those who could have become his staunchest critics.

We don’t know yet whether the feds will finance the longer runway, and at what level. Conceivably, a longer runway may not even get built but there’s no question that Dillon has done what he set out to do. He’s more of the politician than he professes to be, but perhaps that helps explain why he was successful.

We have to thank him for bringing clarity and reason to the process. And we surely must wish him well in his new post.


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