September 23, 2014
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Lost airport wetlands could impact storm surge

To the Editor:

There's a little ghost town down by Lake Shore Drive next to T.F. Green Airport. Several roads and six houses disappeared into the Buckeye Brook flood plain there after the 1938 hurricane. The storm surge came up Buckeye Brook from the sea, dashing the dreams of many city residents on that fateful day 76 years ago. It swamped that little village.

In its new Army Corps study to justify filling in part of the Buckeye Brook flood plain, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) finds that storm surges frequently come up Buckeye Brook from the sea, as the Hurricane of '38 surge did. But then it soft-pedals the problem with boatloads of data showing that eight-inch rainstorms hitting the airport won't flood Buckeye Brook. But that is not the issue. Everybody knows that when you stand in front of a doorway, people can't get through. They back up into the corridor or street. A storm surge coming up the bay has many more times the water than a rainstorm coming down from the airport. The FEMA map that RIAC has attached to its study clearly states, "The floodway...must be kept free of encroachment." 

What happens when you break the rule? The corridor, in this case Buckeye Brook, backs up, causing grief and mayhem perhaps as far away as Waldo Road, where the late environmentalist Steve Insana grew up. The City Engineer's damage report stored in the city vault since 1938 shows that a house was lost in the Hurricane of '38 right next to where RIAC wants to block the door to the storm surges. All six houses are now gone. Maybe we should call this little village Stephantown in Steve's memory. 

Buckeye Brook is tidal. Put up a barrier and you can get into real trouble, especially as sea levels rise and more storms surge up to Stephantown. The problematic headwater for Buckeye Brook is the entire angry gray sea, rising higher every year and potentially deep-sixing more and more Stephantowns – streets where people have maintained their homes and raised their families. RIAC, the mayor and the City Council need to look at that 1938 report to understand that the real flood threat comes up the brook from the sea, not down from the airport. 

 Has anyone ever seen a jet coming in for a landing over Ann & Hope and the mayor's campaign office? I haven't. That crosswinds runway is used only for "visual approaches" through strong southeasterly winds. These winds bring clouds, fog, rain and snow. Yet, that runway has no instruments or storm lighting to deal with nasty weather. That's the runway that RIAC wants to make "safer" by filling in the flood plain to keep hotshot pilots landing without instruments on inclement days from dropping off the cliff into Buckeye Brook after they "land long" by the seats of their pants.

I have looked at the flight data. On February 23, 2013, as conditions were closing in for a southeasterly storm, two jets landed on this runway without instruments. All the other pilots were using their instruments on the main runway. There are six other reports of jets landing on this runway in most of 2013. Four are probably data errors. The other two landed on April 8. It was another marginal day when most pilots used the main runway's instrument approach. Should we be encouraging these riskier landings by maverick pilots of passenger jets?  

In its new study, RIAC reports that the FAA has limited its budget for all safety improvements to $16 million. Spending more is not justified, according to FAA procedures. But Governor Chafee reports in his new budget to the General Assembly that the FAA will contribute $33.6 million for safety improvements, not $16 million. All the subsidiaries of the new Commerce Corporation, including RIAC, must get their numbers straight. It is no longer acceptable under state statute to be telling the Army Corps one thing and the General Assembly something entirely different.   

Governor Chafee also reports that RIAC is planning to spend an additional $51 million to move the ball fields, relocate Main Avenue, and extend the main runway. Under the 38 Studios rules, this $51 million must be considered to be the real amount for the entire runway extension project.

Consider the staggering expenses: the ball field move includes a new road from the RIAC fire station all the way to Airport Road.  Then there's the Main Avenue relocation that drifts inexorably south at the St. Rose of Lima School, plows over houses down to the airport, swings through the existing ball fields, and then loops back to the existing alignment near Palace Avenue. Finally there's the actual runway extension. All of this for $51 million?  Are we headed down a 38 Studios path again, throwing millions into Buckeye Brook to protect a few hotshot pilots who should be using their instruments on the main runway?  Let's get real and use that money for the main runway extension, the thing that business interests in Providence want.

How much will this project of filling in the flood plains add to the flood insurance premiums of the people in the Waldo Road and other areas up and down Buckeye Brook? Should RIAC succeed in impeding the surge at Stephantown, the impediment will be there for all time – as sea levels rise and more and more streets and people get flooded out. It is not such a stretch of the imagination to see Waldo Road becoming another ghost town. Who will pay for that?

 

Richard Langseth

Executive Director

Greenwich Bay Watershed Group

Warwick


Comments
7 comments on this item

Very Good Op Ed!

A better title would have been

LOST AIRPORT WETLANDS LIKELY TO IMPACT WARWICK RESIDENTS' HOMEOWNERS POLICY RATES.

The article also rightly points out that Runway 16 is the least used runway at TF Green, does not have an ILS (Instrument Landing System) as do the other runways at TF Green. Any commercial pilot in command landing on Runway 16 during inclement winter conditions should have their certification pulled for lack of judgement, and the actual FAA flight data shows that during inclement weather runways 5, 23, and 34 are the runways of choice.

Take a look at the airport on Google Maps. You'll see lots of tire marks from landings on Runway 5, 23 and 34. Tire marks on Runway 16 are barely noticeable on Runway 16, reflecting the scant use of that Runway for which they want to spend tens of millions of dollars. The probability of an aircraft skidding of the departure end if Runway 16 is near zero. There has never been a commercial fatality at TF Green.

The FAA would be helping the airport, the airlines, the community, and paying passengers by issuing a waiver on the placing of EMAS on the SE end of Runway 16 and instead re-assigning those monies and making then available for use in extending runway 5/23.

This is just another article that puts attempts to put a negative spin on the expansion project underway. I really don't think you understand. The construction of the project has begun. There is no stopping this project no matter how many different articles you write in the beacon. Just face it the airport is expanding. I find it quite comical actually. This project was approved funding by the president himself. The Governor is pushing for this. The FAA is wants this. RIAC obviously wants this. I can go on and on. It has become a mandatory project. This means more than just the City of Warwick. This has to do with the State of RI.

Michael2012 - Did you check the filing or read the letter to the editor? In it RIAC points out that FAA is only allowing $16 million for its share of this Runway 16-34 project. Where is the rest of the money coming from?

Runway 16 is used when the direct SE headwind that will slow down the aircraft is deemed preferable to the resulting crosswind sustained by landing on 05 and when forward visibility is adequate and within spec. Mr Langseth should really be drawing more information from professional pilots. I doubt he would find a hotshot or maverick among them.

Lattitude41: Large passenger jets land in crosswinds all the time. Indeed during the days mentioned in the letter -- I assumed you read it -- almost all jet operations were on either Runway 5 or 23. Conditions were deteriorating - storms were coming. Yet these few passenger jet pilots chose to come in on 16 without any electronic aids. Why did they take this chance with tens if not hundreds of passengers' lives when all the other pilots were doing what appears to be the more prudent thing? Perhaps you have some insight here?

Here I am in AZ still waiting for the State of R I to get it's "stuff" together ,and I read with amusement about this whole stupid fiasco on the airport.I do remember Strawberry Field Rod when it had strawberries ,and Buckeye Brook had buckeyes.And the working on Joe Carrillo's merry go round in Oakland Beach,as my Dad did in South County.All the great memories and friends.But most of all the great Engineers,and Robert S Hartman P E in particular I worked with,and for great firms McGuire Associates,Fenton Keyes Assoc. I did all the drawings on Colt State Park and took a lot of pride bringing them to John Chafe's Office to peruse.I could go on and on about Bridge Engineers and Highway Engineers who Took a job and JUST DID IT,They kind of worked with a system called "Critical Path Method"...It worked !

Enter my point of view. Its seems that a lot of Paper Work is going on,Do the drawings,stamp them and GET ON WITH IT, this damned Stupid airport is very detrimental to my grand children and great great grandson's health,and is probably already done damage to their lungs and ears.If so I would never sue for retribution...I would take other measures.The oil that drops on the roofs and the abandoned houses,and the noise level increases with more flights....Look Bruce is dead,the Big Dig is over ..Why do Warwick residents (many still friends) have to put up with such stupidity ?

I would suggest you look to AZ and other states engineering feats and Just Do IT...Also Check out the sayings of Aristophanes...for it sure does apply to all those" well paid committees" back there in poor little R I. I promise I will remove my great great grandson from there as soon as the project is finished.And please be fair in the buyout..if fairness is possible in this fiasco. My apologies to my classmates (54) and friends, who still live there, and good luck on the few years we may have left...WE were the Luckiest Generation and probably checking out at the right time.

frank w oakes jr

Here I am in AZ still waiting for the State of R I to get it's "stuff" together ,and I read with amusement about this whole stupid fiasco on the airport.I do remember Strawberry Field Rod when it had strawberries ,and Buckeye Brook had buckeyes.And the working on Joe Carrillo's merry go round in Oakland Beach,as my Dad did in South County.All the great memories and friends.But most of all the great Engineers,and Robert S Hartman P E in particular I worked with,and for great firms McGuire Associates,Fenton Keyes Assoc. I did all the drawings on Colt State Park and took a lot of pride bringing them to John Chafe's Office to peruse.I could go on and on about Bridge Engineers and Highway Engineers who Took a job and JUST DID IT,They kind of worked with a system called "Critical Path Method"...It worked !

Enter my point of view. Its seems that a lot of Paper Work is going on,Do the drawings,stamp them and GET ON WITH IT, this damned Stupid airport is very detrimental to my grand children and great great grandson's health,and is probably already done damage to their lungs and ears.If so I would never sue for retribution...I would take other measures.The oil that drops on the roofs and the abandoned houses,and the noise level increases with more flights....Look Bruce is dead,the Big Dig is over ..Why do Warwick residents (many still friends) have to put up with such stupidity ?

I would suggest you look to AZ and other states engineering feats and Just Do IT...Also Check out the sayings of Aristophanes...for it sure does apply to all those" well paid committees" back there in poor little R I. I promise I will remove my great great grandson from there as soon as the project is finished.And please be fair in the buyout..if fairness is possible in this fiasco. My apologies to my classmates (54) and friends, who still live there, and good luck on the few years we may have left...WE were the Luckiest Generation and probably checking out at the right time.

frank w oakes jr

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