Although the city signed off on relocating Winslow Park softball and soccer fields to airport property in September 2012, news that the project is going to cost $2 million more than projected has two council members questioning if City Park or Rocky Point would be better suited for the fields.
The issue surfaced at Monday night’s City Council meeting as Rhode Island Airport Corporation president and CEO Kelly Fredericks presented an overview of airport projects including the extension of safety areas to Runway 16-34 that would affect Buckeye Brook wetlands; progress on the construction of the deicing fluid recovery facility and the status of plans for an extension to the main runway.
But it was the relocation of the Winslow Park fields that had the attention of Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon and Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. Fredericks said design for the six softball and two soccer fields, parking and concession area, which will be built on land cleared on homes in the Lake Shore Drive neighborhood, is 90 percent completed. The bad news, however, is that it is costing a lot more than anticipated, he said.
The cost of relocating the fields is $7.5 million, or about $2 million more than first budgeted. The project includes an extension of the maintenance garage service road off Airport Road and revisions to the service and Airport Road intersection. He said that the Department of Transportation opposes a signal at the intersection; however, they are examining the feasibility of a combined intersection with Commerce Way that does have a signal.
Saying he is concerned by the health and safety of children, Solomon likened moving the fields from Main Avenue to the other end of the airport to going from the frying pan into the fire. He said the Lake Shore Drive site doesn’t seem practical and that it raises air quality concerns.
As for the Airport Road intersection, he said the road already has too much traffic and it can’t handle the flow.“Rocky Point Park or City Park may be a more practical place,” he said. “Before spending anymore funds, it makes sense that we take a breath and take a look.”
Merolla suggested, getting the kids out of harm’s way and go someplace else all together.
“It’s just not a compatible land use with the airport,” he said of the fields.
Yet the council denied a zone change that would have allowed RIAC to build three corporate hangars on the land. As the hangars would have been privately owned, the city would have benefited from tax revenues. The site was then considered for the fields when it became apparent they weren’t going to be relocated to the Knight Campus of CCRI.
Keeping the fields at Winslow Park is impossible, as some of the land will be needed to accommodate the relocation of Main Avenue that is all part of lengthening of Runway 5-23. As part of a memorandum of understanding with RIAC, whereby the council dropped legal action to halt the runway extension, RIAC agreed to relocate the fields. Further, it gave the council until October 2012 to find an alternative site to Lake Shore Drive.
Fredericks couldn’t see how picking another site at this time could be accomplished without disrupting the timetable to have the runway extension operational by December 2017.
“This a complex and tight schedule,” he said. “We’re well under way.”
Asked Tuesday what he thought of Solomon’s two proposed sites, Mayor Scott Avedisian said he believes there are restrictions that would prevent them from going on the state owned portion of the former park. As for the city parcel, there isn’t sufficient space. He also ruled out City Park on the basis of space.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur wasn’t prepared to buy into the Rocky Point proposal on Tuesday. Before signing on, he said he wanted more information and to hear from his constituents.
On the loss of 2.6 acres of biological wetlands for the safety area on the shorter runway, Fredericks outlined five areas where RIAC would reestablish and create wetlands to offset wetlands lost. He said the deicing management system is scheduled to go online in October 2014 and be fully operational by March 2015 under the terms of its permit with the Department of Environmental Management. DEM is also in the process of reviewing the wetlands mitigation plan that will need to come back to the council for approval.
Fredericks had a piece of bad news. In the agreement with the city, RIAC was to have replaced a section of water main running under Airport Road. That would have been necessary had the Airport and Post Road intersection been relocated to the north as first proposed. Now that is not happening and the Federal Aviation Administration won’t finance replacement of the water main.