To the Editor:
Rhode Islanders may recall that the City of Warwick has worked hard to promote economic expansion around the airport. We have worked with federal and state governments to secure grants for the development and construction of the new train station, the people mover to the airport, new parking garages and hotels. Additionally, we have rezoned 95 acres of land next to the airport for business-related economic development. In our newly created Intermodal and Gateway zones, we have pre-approved building heights of 7.5 stories.
Every time the airport has expanded in the past 30 years there have been growing pains that have been tempered by the fact that the airport is a business partner with Warwick. During the last two major airport expansions (in 1986 and 1996), the airport identified homes/people that were living in federally defined hardship areas based on noise contours. The airport was either required to purchase or soundproof these homes. In both expansions, it took 14 years to purchase all the homes and the soundproofing was never completed – the process was simply stopped in the year 2000. The stark reality of the situation was that people could not sell their homes because they were slated to be taken. Homeowners found themselves living in houses in need of repair, while others found themselves living next to boarded up homes. Land use planning simple does not exist in these areas as homes are taken in large groups that extend like fingers into Warwick's neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, DEM mandated that the airport install treatment measures to prevent de-icing fluid and other materials from running directly into our streams and bays. The airport's neighborly response was to continually appeal DEM's mandates for the last 24 years. Year after year Warwick has had fish kills, clam kills and beach closures. You should smell the stuff in the stream after a bad storm. The airport is currently working on a treatment system that has yet to be approved by DEM and which the airport hopes to install by 2015. Please hold your breath, and store your fishing poles, clam rakes and bathing suits until then.
Fast forward to today, where the next phase of the airport expansion is underway, with plans to take approximately 129 homes, 12 businesses, 5 acres of wetlands, and several soccer, softball and baseball fields. Warwick recently appealed certain aspects of the airport's new plan because we are simply trying to prevent history from repeating itself. In particular, Warwick is asking the airport to set aside the funds necessary, as part of its $400 million expansion, to purchase the homes and businesses they have identified in the next 2 to 3 years – as opposed to the next 14 years. The same is true for relocating the kid's ball fields they have identified for taking and soundproofing the homes they have identified. In their latest settlement offer to the city, airport officials say they will use their best efforts to accomplish the above. If those best efforts are similar to what we have seen during past expansions, we shouldn't expect much.
It is fundamentally fair and reasonable for the city to recognize the past history of failed promises when it comes to airport expansion and to diligently work to make sure the rights of Warwick's residents and neighborhoods are better protected in this current expansion plan. That's not being "anti-airport". It is simply exercising common sense and protecting the public interest. Homeowners, businesses, and the Little Leagues need to have realistic time tables implemented as part of this expansion so they too can plan for their future. And implementing clean water and air standards is not only rational but is in the best interest of all parties. Progress is great, but planned progress is even better.
Councilman Ward 9