Council ‘played’ to avoid federal disclosure over airport projects
To the Editor:
Please forgive me as I struggle with writing this letter, which I desire to have included in the official record of the decision-making behind the unanimous action of the Warwick City Council, which I still cannot fully accept.
While I can fully understand and share a desire to come to an understanding and/or agreement with RIAC (Rhode Island Airport Corporation) over concerns raised by and through the aircraft related operations in the heart of our densely residential land use city, I cannot accept or excuse what appears to be a manipulation of our City Council to accept pieces of silver in exchange for permission to continue what may prove over time to be one of the greatest frauds perpetrated in the state of Rhode Island.
I do not state this lightly, nor without what I consider to be significant evidence that the Master Planning Process that was supposed to be the basis of the existence for or against the publicly challenged Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that resulted in the publicly challenged Record of Decision (ROD) was fatally flawed. There is ample evidence that the EIS was allowed to proceed despite public protestations from the internal Citizen Stakeholder group in its entirety, Warwick’s City Council, Planning Department and Mayor’s office, and state representatives who were closest to the Study Resource Committee (SRC) within the Master Planning Process.
It remains a fact that we were all told that we’d have to wait to have our concerns addressed within the EIS process. We were subsequently told, after the vote to move into the EIS process, that this federal process was only concerned with incremental change. Then, a RIAC representative wished us good luck with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The last official act of the SRC Citizen Stakeholder Group as a whole was to declare these actions a fatal flaw in the federal airport planning process.
Blatantly ignored by the airport planners, we had to endure the EIS process to its end, from the outside, as no one seemed to want to challenge it on behalf of the Citizen Stakeholders. Finally, the ROD was released, along with the opportunity for the city to finally legally challenge the process. But first, our mayor waffled, echoing the mantra of his predecessor mentor, that you couldn’t win an argument against expansion. This position is certainly true if you fail to make an argument.
Then, as expected by the Citizen Stakeholders when our mayor failed to act in our defense, the City Council unanimously moved to challenge the ROD, going so far as to finally spend some of the money that had been put aside for this purpose for years. That was commendable. But it was also apparently a major threat to public and private interests who had something (real and/or imaginary) to lose by an independent federal review of this possibly corrupted federal planning process.
Although the Citizen Stakeholders expected a challenge to the council’s decision to challenge the FAA ROD, they did not expect to witness what subsequently happened. They did not expect to see the challenge of the FAA ROD turn into a trade-off of a few local concessions. They did not expect to see the local planners avoid an independent federal review of their suspect ROD. To come to a mutual understanding or agreement over environmental concerns is one thing, but the price of not having this contested federal planning process independently substantiated is another. During this council action, the process was compared to a divorce, where each party gets something but not everything they wanted. I would suggest the process was more like a divorce, where one party was lacking in awareness, and the other party was a seasoned pro at hiding the facts. Our City Council appears to have been played, and used as a tool to avoid federal disclosure.
I absolutely do not mean to imply that our City Council did not work hard on this issue. I do not mean to imply that the City Council failed to achieve significant agreements and concessions from the Airport Corporation. But I firmly believe the City Council was duped into making this agreement in an unreasonably short period of time and without due consideration of the citizen stakeholders’ concerns, which centered on the flaws within the federal planning process, and not in the form of concessions.
There was more than a divorce settlement for a failed marriage before us. There was the question of the legitimacy of the entire federal planning process, from a challenge to the legitimacy of the Sponsor for this AIP Grant as a Sole Sponsor, to the ability of the Sponsor to make the necessary Assurances, to possible cloudy title issues concerning some of the property claimed as being in the control of the Airport Corporation on the Airport Layout Plan, to the unresolved issue of a possible fraudulent component within the Sound Insulation Program funded by the U.S. government, to a failure to provide a verifiable purpose and need for the federal process, or the ROD. None of these issues were addressed in the City Council’s Memorandum. This is not because they weren’t legitimate concerns. This is more likely due to the adopted practice of not including the Citizen Stakeholder representatives inside the planning process while negotiating with an entity some consider to be a party to suspect activity.
These grave omissions allow one to understand how the City Council came to its limited conclusions in this matter, which has resulted in a public perception that the City Council condones the expansion of the airport. You can’t blame the public. A unanimous vote for the local goodies results in an appearance of a unanimous vote for full airport expansion, as it does not challenge this end. I know this is not the case. But it is now the public record, as it stands.
The public will not see this as an attempt by the City Council to finally get some firm(ish) commitments and concessions from the Airport Corporation. The public will see this as the decision to drop the legal challenge to the ROD, and thereby allow it continued credibility, along with the expansion of the airport, despite the ROD’s inherent, blatant, non-legally challenged flaws. This is the real basis of our disappointment with the council. It is not what you accomplished, for which you deserve high praise. Rather, it is for what you failed to accomplish, and for what you gave up in a federal arena in exchange for a few significant local concessions. The FAA ROD, which clearly is full of errors and omissions, and based on a historically flawed airport planning process, will not receive the independent federal review within the federal airport planning process allowed for such circumstances, based on your decision. This is not cause for celebration among the Citizen Stakeholders.
What’s done is done. Efforts will continue to have the voices of the Citizen Stakeholders heard by independent federal investigators in Washington, D.C. Due in large part to your recent actions, we will now be viewed as isolated and alone in this endeavor for the first time. However, we will count on your continued support.
With deep appreciation and sincerity,
Raleigh M. Jenkins
SRC Citizen Stakeholder (at Large)