To the Editor:
It’s no secret that Rhode Islanders don’t want a lot of airplane gunk in their swimming pools, or in their beautiful wetlands. No matter. Leaders at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation appear to have a little secret in regard to this matter, which they have asked the Warwick City Council to listen to at a closed-doors session. You and I are not invited to attend. The topic is Buckeye Brook, the target of most of the deicing fluid being dumped into our wetlands.
So I’m wondering, what would happen if a large developer asked for the same favor? Would the City Council listen to the Leviton family talk about its wetlands problems at its Warwick plant in secret? Of course not. What then is so unique about the airport? President Donna Travis needs to unbolt the door here.
And what could possibly come out of a secret airport presentation on Buckeye Brook? Unless the litigation between the city and the airport is reinstated, there is no way the City Council can put in a single word about the problem. The protocol for this kind of meeting prohibits the asking of any questions or any discussions.
If the City Council agrees to visit the airport to hear about Buckeye Brook in private, then its hands are totally tied. It will have made a decision to discuss the points presented by the airport in future executive sessions – sessions that would be illegal under Rhode Island 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. One possible reason for the secrecy might be an upcoming property acquisition that could draw speculators to make a quick buck while driving up prices.
Is that a possibility? Who would attempt to buy parts of Buckeye Brook from the city and then attempt to sell it to the airport at a profit?
What about the Leviton wetlands? Might the airport be attempting to buy that property as "mitigation" for damage done to Buckeye Brook as the airport has previously discussed? If that is the case, then let's discuss it in public where it belongs. There are enormous environment issues with that wetland. Buying a polluted wetland as a replacement for a healthy Buckeye Brook is an extremely bad deal for the people of Rhode Island.
Another possibility for making this secret pact to hear the airport in private is potential litigation. Might the airport be sued if its secret dealings with the City Council break out into public view? That could tie up the safety improvements project at the airport for years. Would this information enter the public domain? Of course it would.
Federal law requires full disclosure of any environment documents associated with the airport safety project, including wetlands impacts. So the airport could tell the City Council that council members can't release any information because it could lead to litigation, which would be very foolish indeed. This is all the more reason for a public process.
Deciding to attend this secret presentation will be the first major airport decision that Mrs. Travis has to make. Knowing her as well as I do, I am confident that she will think it through and realize that she cannot promise to keep that presentation secret. She would be well advised to be open to her constituents – including me – and inform airport officials that the presentation would be appropriate, but only as long as the public is invited to listen.
Executive DirectorGreenwich Bay Watershed Group