Why challenging airport decision is appropriate
To the Editor:
There is tremendous pressure being exerted on the City Council after their vote to hire an aviation-experienced attorney to represent the city of Warwick in a formal challenge to the recent Record of Decision (ROD) by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to approve a plan that includes airport expansion and safety improvements.
Our mayor has outright refused to support the challenge, finally exposing his position to approve the proposed plan after years of posturing that he was opposed to airport improvements that didn’t fully address Warwick citizen concerns, including safety, health, environment, property tax loss, extent of expansion/improvements, etc. His current position flies in the face of his past claims. His current claim that a challenge couldn’t be won rings hollow and appears to align with his predecessor and mentor’s position, who gave up early on challenging the airport’s unbridled growth and set the stage for today’s confrontation.
Why hold fast to an effort to challenge the ROD? First of all, the current effort to challenge the Record of Decision is a built-in safeguard to ensure completeness and appropriateness of the results of an airport planning process. This is especially desirable when stakeholders believe there are faults with the process that results in the final ROD.
While a strong attempt is apparently being made to limit focus on the latest phase of the airport planning process, one needs to step back in time to understand why a challenge to the ROD is appropriate, and not something to be manipulated or weakened in any way.
Anyone who was involved with the pre-planning phase that led up to the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] knows that the citizen stakeholder representatives were manipulated during the process to the point of exclusion. At one point, all nine citizen stakeholder representatives who were appointed by the City Council were dismissed from this federal planning process for walking out of the process upon being told that the planners would no longer consider their input. This dismissal didn’t last. However, upon return to the planning process the citizen stakeholders found themselves increasingly separated out from the rest of the stakeholder members, depriving both groups of fully understanding the issues that required consideration in a valid planning process. Ultimately, over the unanimous publicly expressed objections of the city representatives, the airport corporation board voted unanimously to move forward from the pre-planning phase into the formal EIS process. At this point, in the eyes of the citizen representatives, the EIS process lost its legitimacy, and became essentially a fraudulent process.
The EIS process moved forward without the involvement of this essential stakeholder component, amid publicly mixed messages as to whether or not the group still existed. The airport’s consultants attempted to meet individually with citizens in a transparent attempt to weaken their participation in the ongoing planning process while creating an appearance of compliance.
Fast-forward, we have finally come out of this fraudulent component and face a renewed possibility to address the inadequacies of the ROD through a formal, independent challenge process. Warwick citizens have waited long for this formal opportunity to legally challenge the ROD. Informed, concerned and manipulated citizens have been waiting for their “day in court” to address their concerns and the inadequacies of the airport planning process before a neutral authority.
So, now that this day has finally arrived, what do we see before us:
1. Our Mayor, who claims to represent “the city,” has turned his back on his own public claims, which threatens the citizens’ inherent right to challenge the plan;
2. Special interest groups are aggressively trying to weaken the appeal process by appealing to the City Council to back away from a legal challenge;
3. The Airport Corporation has hired a lobbyist in an apparent attempt to sway the City Council to back away from a legal challenge.
4. Unidentified parties appear to be trying to change the proposed legislation in support of the challenge, by setting conditions that will dilute the purpose or limit citizen input.
What are we to make of this? What do these parties fear? Why are they afraid of transparency? Why are they afraid of an outside federal authority examining the ROD to see whether or not the concerns of all of the stakeholders have been met through the airport planning process?
The legal challenge in front of us is an accepted, formal federal process established to ensure that airport planning has been done correctly, according to federal regulations, with the application of due consideration and due diligence. It is a federal process that could, in fact, ultimately validate the challenged ROD. The concerned citizens are prepared to take that chance.
The City Council has a record of supporting its constituents throughout this challenging planning process. The City Council would do well now to help ensure that the informed, committed citizens who gave of their time and energy to the pre-planning process are not further restricted from participating fully in a final challenge to what many consider to be the result of a fraudulent airport planning process. The council needs to know, in face of the recent pressure by special interests, that they have the continued, active support of those whose “special interest” is their city of Warwick.
Let’s ensure, at this point, that all the stakeholders’ concerns have been duly considered.