November 24, 2014
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RIAC council briefing raises question on open meetings law

While City Council members want to learn how the Rhode Island Airport Corporation proposes to offset the loss of about seven acres of Buckeye Brook wetlands, which will be altered when safety improvements are made to the shorter of Green Airport’s two runways, others are questioning whether they should meet behind closed doors to address the question.

“People want to know what’s going on,” Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said yesterday when asked about a meeting planned for this afternoon at the airport. Interim RIAC CEO Peter Frazier has invited all nine council members to attend an informational meeting about the wetlands.

Improvements to Runway 16-34 involve an extension of the area to meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding safety. Some wetlands at the Buckeye Brook end of the runway will be lost.

Those areas can be made up with the extension of wetlands elsewhere, but for all of this to happen RIAC needs a wetlands permit, and that requires City Council approval. The council has 45 days to respond to a petition to alter wetlands, but so far RIAC hasn’t actually filed a formal application.

Nonetheless, RIAC’s efforts to bring council members up to speed are causing a stir between some of RIAC’s most ardent critics. In a letter sent to council members and the Beacon, Richard Langseth calls the meeting “secret” and speculates it has something to do with acquiring land from Leviton Manufacturing on Jefferson Boulevard to offset the lost Buckeye Brook wetlands. Since all nine council members have been invited to attend, Langseth says the meeting is in violation of the state Open Meetings Law.

“The Rhode Island Open Meetings Law is very clear. Unless the city is going to buy or sell Buckeye Brook property, or sue or be sued by the airport, there is no way it can keep any secrets that the airport management whispers at this secret presentation,” Langseth writes.

Frazier, who is an attorney, disagrees.

“This is a courtesy meeting from one agency to another,” Frazier said yesterday. “We want to provide information. They [the council] are not going to deliberate. This is not a hearing,” He said he is familiar with the law and, as a precaution, even checked with the Attorney General.

“This is absolutely consistent with the letter of the law,” he said.

Frazier said wetland mitigation plans have been shared with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Management.

“It’s a briefing,” he said, “We’ve done this kind of thing before with the City Council. To deprive the council [of the information] doesn’t sound like good government to me.”

Merolla, who is also an attorney, said the Council’s attorney, John Harrington, has reviewed the matter and issued the opinion that all nine members can attend the informational session without violating the law, if they do not ask questions.

Merolla wondered how productive such a session would be. He asks whether that might project the wrong impression.

“This may be good legal advice,” he said, “but is it good political advice?”

Merolla sees advantages to a closed meeting as it enables parties to have “frank discussions.”

Frazier said the wetlands mitigation being proposed is entirely on airport property and does not include the Leviton property. He said an expert in wetlands mitigation would make a presentation at today’s meeting.

As for the runway safety area project, he said it is on schedule and that the first visible sign of that work would be the demolition of Hangar 1 at the west end of the runway. The wetlands are at the east end of the runway. Construction is slated to begin this summer.

Frazier also said RIAC is also seeking bids for the construction of a glycol recovery system RIAC has committed to build to mitigate the runoff of the deicing fluid into the Buckeye Brook watershed.

Frazier expects to meet with the Buckeye Brook Coalition, a citizens group to restore the brook and its spring runs of herring, and outline RIAC’s wetlands proposal for them.


Comments
4 comments on this item

If the airport was at Quonset I'm sure the folks down there would be complaining about glycol into the bay. I like to think of myself as an environmentalist but I have a difficult time worrying about the Buckeye Brook due to the importance of this project to the citizens of Warwick and RI. As long as somewhere wetlands are created to offset any net losses near Buckeye Brook. This urban development is no worse than all the asphalt layed down in the city and the buildup of commerical real estate. Look at Bald HIll Rd for example. That used to be all woods 20 years ago. The wetlands remaining are small over near that car dealership used to be Jaguar not sure what it is now. Warwick has transformed from farm land and rural to a major RI city. That is not going to change. Any airport is a major polluter. Nature of the beast. It is sad but true and that is progress that man-kind has justified even as the planet continues to warm thanks to the burning of fossil fuels by man. I'd rather see more projects such as the open space at Rocky Point than worrying about a few pockets of wetlands around the airport. Better yet, spend money to make a larger wetland habitat that can thrive elsewhere in the city. I've learned when it comes to the environment picking battles is crucial because they all cannot be won. But to redirect funds to larger environmental projects that overall will better for the eco system. But yes we want TF Green to pollute the very least possible and be a good neighbor. However the runway expansion is a necessary evil for the safety of not only the passengers but the residents who live nearby. In addition with this dieing economic city and state the runway expansion is a must have. So much money has already been invested and so much has already been built to support and enhance the project. I read in 2015 Warwick will be hosting a ice skating tournment that will bring in thousands of people in the local area. Do we want them flying into Logan or TF Green? With all the hotels in the city there is no reason why Warwick cannot excel in this category of being a host city for events and that portal is through TF Green Airport. Think of the economic revenue that will be generated in 2015 alone. The airport can be more of an economic gem if we just expliot it further. No other city or town in RI can boast that they have a international airport. Warwick years ago went the route of becoming a big city. It is too late to go back now. If fish you are worried about than perhaps farm raised fish farms would be in order so the herring will stay plentiful. Or stocking water ways manually. At least it would create marine jobs that the fishing industry is loosing due to over fishing and drastic cuts in quota recently announced. As long as the brook continues to function naturally and spring runs of herring can go forth than this is a no issue even if some wetlands are moved.

Michael: You say "Any airport is a major polluter. Nature of the beast."

Let me clariify, upper air pollution from the planes CO2. Obviously some ground air pollution as well but so do all the automobiles and power plants. As far as the glycol I don't see that as a major issue. In fact, they have a tractor attached to it is a large tanker with a vacuum that as the planes are de-iced the glycol remaining gets suck up into the tanker. Further more, the airport expanding is not going to change the glycol levels used. So, in the sense airports are pollluters due to the greenhouse gases.

Michael: I agree with you that the expansion will not generate more passenger traffic. Been saying that all along. So, why expand? What is going to pay for the added financing to expand if more passengers don't show up. This expansion idea is a total waste of money.

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