October 23, 2014
Rate this
Negotiations stepped up on airport

The council will put on a full court press to negotiate an agreement with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) this week that could end litigation over airport improvements and open the way to construction of a runway extension.

Now that the committee steering the council’s challenge, of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of the longer runway and other projects, has presented RIAC with a list of demands, which was done last Wednesday, the parties are ready to negotiate. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who chairs the committee, has scheduled meetings for tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.

“Our hope is that our effort pays off. It won’t be for a lack of trying,” committee member Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9) said Friday. Asked what he expected the city to get from the talks, Merolla responded, “If I knew that, I’d be down at the Stop & Shop in Newport getting a lottery ticket.”

While the parties have agreed to not talk about specifics, RIAC CEO Kevin Dillon doesn’t sound like he’s ready to gamble.

He said Friday there’s “a strong desire for a real earnest effort.” Referring to nearly two months of committee meetings – two of which included RIAC – he added, “Now we know what we’re talking about.”

But Dillon is looking for more than talk and so, too, are the governor, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the trades unions that are pressuring to settle any legal challenge so projects can be started and jobs are created.

In order for RIAC to meet a March 1 deadline for submission of federal funding, Dillon speculated the full council would need to consider and approve any agreement by early next week. Alternatively, RIAC could file for funding and then amend its application when an agreement is finalized, but Dillon would rather get it right from the start.

“Thankfully, it’s leap year,” he said of the extra day.

Dillon cautioned he’s not prepared to strike an agreement at any cost, either.

“I’m not inclined to take the project cost and double it,” he said.

Costs may also be a consideration for the council that is paying California aviation attorney Steve Taber to represent them. Taber is being paid about $200 an hour and Merolla said Taber’s initial invoice of $2,500 seemed “fair and incredibly reasonable” given the volume of material in the case. The petition for a review of the FAA decision was filed in the U.S. Appellate Court in Washington, D.C.

According to Peter Frazier, general counsel for RIAC, the court issued a briefing schedule last week calling on the council to submit a brief by April 2. That is to be followed by the FAA brief on May 2 and RIAC brief on May 17.

Dillon said RIAC intervened in the suit “to keep track” of developments and be supportive of FAA.

But clearly, if the council is to stay in the litigation game, Taber will need to put in more time and the clock will be ticking. A total of $124,000 is allocated in the budget for litigation.

A three-judge panel would consider the council’s claim that the FAA acted in an arbitrary and capacious manner in approving the projects.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that a decision could be rendered by the end of the calendar year,” should litigation be pursued by the council, Frazier said.

Merolla countered charges that the council has been dragging its feet, saying, “We just recently got all the documents and this is the first opportunity to respond and have meaningful negotiations.”

He said Taber has consumed the bulk of the time just going through all the information. As Merolla sees it, “we’re more interested in the mitigation measures than the project itself.” He said he doesn’t want to see people “stuck in their houses for 14 years” not knowing when they might be bought out. “There are so many issues, including moving the ball fields,” he added.

He appears to have consensus with City Council President Bruce Place. At last Wednesday’s committee meeting, where Raimondo urged the panel to consider the short- and long-term impacts of its actions, Place responded that he was in full agreement with Raimondo, although he has a responsibility to also represent the interests of Warwick residents.

It would appear that, even if RIAC were to consider a lesser project, such as reducing the proposed extension from 8,700 feet to 8,300 feet, it would mean a fresh environmental impact statement taking several years. Mayor Scott Avedisian pushed for an 8,300-foot runway, arguing it would be far less disruptive to the community and wouldn’t dramatically affect Green’s capability to offer airlines non-stop coast-to-coast service. The 8,300-foot proposal has come up again in recent public sessions, preceding the litigation committee’s closed meetings, although, at this point, that does not seem like a possible compromise.


Comments
7 comments on this item

One really big issue is the fact that the Airport Corporation seems to be stuck at the 30% design level for the project around Main Avenue. How can the city agree to anything when it does not know where the road is going, where the sidewalks will go, the traffic lights, etc. The Airport Corporation has had years to get this together and has failed. And what about the Glycol Plant. There was supposed to have been a hearing by now. More delays there. The permitting process is going at a snail's pace.

Main ave isn't essential. We have West Shore Rd, Airport Rd. But no worries Main Ave will be re-located. I'm so happy to hear the latest developments. It seems everyone is getting on the same page now. A few people will voice their displeasure on here but it's not possible to please everyone.

Kudos to the Governor, Mayor, FAA, RIAC and hopefully soon the City Council.

This will create jobs, and make the airport and surrounding areas more safe. We need to draw people into the state to spend money!

In the mean time it will create much needed jobs !!

With the FAA funding as much as 75 percent of the project it will have less of an impact on the airlines, the city, and the state.

Also if they are going to expand it would be foolish to not go the full length. 400 feet isn't a big deal project wise, but makes a huge difference for what the extended runway is attended for

Michael2012: FAA construction funding is going to be about $95 million after you deduct the short term interest for the bank loan to prefund the project. Entire project according to the Record of Decision is over $500 million. That leaves at least $400 million to be picked up by ticketholders and people parking at the airport. Airport Corporation is planning on skipping about $200 million in terminal and roadway improvements that will be needed to handle the millions of new passengers streaming into the airport to use the longer runway. But this still leaves $200 million in local money - which neither the airport nor state government has hanging around. That money would be borrowed bringing up the Airport's debt service to around $42 million per year on $60 million of revenues and grants.

Given a similar situation in Philadelphia, Southwest has pulled out and USAirways has warned the airport that it will pull out if the improvement projects move ahead, leaving an all but empty airport in Philadelphia. Projected cost per enplanement there is in the $35 dollar range or three times to five times the normal metric. Same thing would happen here

It is a reality that airport planning never ends. Perhaps the biggest lesson to come out of all of this recent activity is the realization that we still have more problems than anyone imagined, and that the federal planning process for this airport appears to have been grossly mismanaged. Hopefully the formal legal challenge will lead to a blueprint for a new team to follow to determine the optimal size for this land-limited airport, once and for all. The decision by those in control of the airport planning process to abruptly abandon the pre-planning stage prematurely has turned out to be an apparent fatal flaw running throughout the rest of the planning process. Avoiding the resolution of the overly restrictive deed easements situation is another apparent time waster, as was failing to follow up with the lung cancer study using 2010 Census data when it became available. The City Council should be thanked for attempting to reach an agreement over as much as is possible with the airport corporation, but the real issues are within the federal airport planning process itself, and they are not addressed by agreeing to relocate a ball-field or two, or to continue monitoring the air without doing anything about the existing pollution effects. We will have to see what comes out of this City Council sub-committee effort, before determining the next steps in the airport planning process.

To "On 2/21/12 at 08:44 PM, Concerned52".

A minor correction to your comment. Regarding "re-locating a ball-field or two".

Currently the entire Winslow Park complex consists of: first, on the softball side a total of six fields, a concession stand, two play grounds and parking for approximately 177 vehicles.

For the soccer fields: one regulation sized field, two smaller fields and parking to be shared with the softball fields.

Southwest has scaled back not "pulled out" of Philadelphia. The business model of minimal delays, quick turnarounds and aircraft utilization was not being met at PHL. Also USAirways is balking at the massive Philadelphia plan as it would make room for a competitor to knock US out on it's own turf. Also if US merges with another carrier as the industry reporters suggest, and the combined entity dosen't need Philadelphia strategically or geographically then US would be on the hook for improving the airport on to other carriers' advantage. A similar situation? Basically what the theory presented above is yet another example of taking any commercial aviation headline and bending and shaping into something anti-Green

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.
Welcome to RIjobs.com
Copyright © 2014, Beacon Communications. Powered by: Creative Circle Advertising Solutions, Inc.