It’s a great step forward; it’s a beginning, but only a beginning and it fails to ensure the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) will do what it says it will do.
Those are differing points of view about the permit agreement between RIAC and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to build a $25 million system that will capture an average of 60 percent of the propylene glycol used to deice aircraft.
Aspects of the R.I. Pollution Discharge Elimination System [RIPDES] permit were discussed in a recent DEM workshop and will be the topic of a public hearing May 14 at 6 p.m. at DEM offices on 235 Promenade Street in Providence. During the hearing, DEM will accept comments but not respond to questions.
“To DEM’s credit, they’re attempting to attack the most egregious of these conditions,” City Planner William DePasquale said Tuesday of contaminants reaching the Buckeye Brook watershed.
“Can we do more?” DePasquale asks. “We can always do more.”
But the planner said, “I have a lot of confidence in DEM. They held the line needed to improve the water quality emanating from the airport.”
After years of talks, terms of a permit agreement were announced late last year. Construction of a system to capture the glycol before it reached the brook was high on the list of demands made by the City Council in exchange for dropping legal action for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to review its approval of plans to extend the airport’s main runway. A memorandum of understanding was reached between the council and RIAC in February. The parties were given the terms of a settlement this week – the finalized memorandum – for signature. Construction of a $25 million glycol collection and treatment system by Dec. 31, 2015 is one of the terms but there are still concerns over what is proposed and what it will mean for the environment.
Paul Earnshaw, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, calls the permit a good beginning, “but is not the perfect end-all answer to the failing health of Warwick Pond and Buckeye Brook due to the discharge of pollutants such as deicing chemicals,” in a statement released Tuesday.
“We want to work towards a zero discharge policy, which would help to restore sustainability to this watershed. We expect that this permit will be vigorously enforced. As well as proper auditing measures to assure compliance,” he says.
In a letter to DEM, coalition member and Riverview resident George Shuster raises concerns that RIAC could never build the system and never be held accountable.
“I am not a scientist, and the draft RIPDES permit contains complicated scientific data on which I am not qualified to comment. However, one thing about the draft RIPDES permit, and the related agreement between RIAC and the city of Warwick, is abundantly clear. Issuance of the draft RIPDES permit can only make sense if RIAC in fact builds the glycol treatment facility by the planned deadline in December 2015,” Shuster writes.
He goes on to observe that the glycol collection and treatment system is a condition of the memorandum of understanding.
“Yet nowhere in the documentation is it clear what happens if RIAC fails to build the treatment facility, and it seems possible that the December 2015 deadline could be extended indefinitely,” he writes.
“Let me be plain: it is a betrayal of the public trust vested in the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management if it allows a RIPDES permit to be issued that (a) assumes the construction of the planned glycol treatment facility, yet (b) does not automatically terminate if the facility is not built by December 31, 2015.”
DePasquale doesn’t see it that way.
“If they [RIAC] don’t meet the limits [for the removal of glycol], they are in violation. One would assume the only way to meet the limits is to build the facility,” he said.