Consultants and airport representatives outnumbered residents Thursday evening to view the proposed $100 million plan to relocate and expand air cargo facilities from the Airport Road side of the …
Consultants and airport representatives outnumbered residents Thursday evening to view the proposed $100 million plan to relocate and expand air cargo facilities from the Airport Road side of the terminal south to an area once used for long term parking.
But, that didn’t mean the plans weren’t questioned or modifications weren’t suggested.
As consultants folded up easels at the end of the three-hour session, held at the Sawtooth building in Apponaug, the most vocal critic of the plan, Richard Langseth, concluded “it’s no such a bad deal.” Asked later for an explanation, Langseth said the plan addressed concerns he raised over trailer trucks crossing in front of the terminal arrival area to access Post Road and the Coronado Street Bridge to Jefferson Boulevard. The plan calls for the trucks to access the Airport Connector to Route 95 and from there exits on Jefferson Boulevard.
In additional discussions, he said the City Council would need to abandon portions of Strawberry Field Road, Murray Street and Field View Drive to build a noise and visual protection berm. He said this should be used as leverage to gain guarantees from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation including limits on additional expansion.
However,on Monday, John Goodman, RIAC Assistant Vice President of Media Relations wrote in an email, “We do know that the FAA does not see the need for the wall since data shows that it is not needed for noise mitigation. The recent bid which is contingent on funding approval puts the cost of the wall at approximately $1.76 million. This is a significant cost. RIAC and the City of Warwick believe that it is needed to shield the neighborhood from the operations at the cargo facility. Therefore, both entities are requesting the FAA and our congressional delegation to help us fund this wall.”
Langseth is skeptical of federal funding for the barrier and concerned about the location of proposed expanded air cargo facilities.
“Future expansion of the scope beyond what is now envisioned needs to be reigned in or we may be buzzing with air cargo all day and night,” reads an email he sent over the weekend. He hopes to meet with the mayor, city planner and council members to outline proposed measures the city should take.
Langseth is not alone in asking how the city benefits from this development that, according to the environmental assessment prepared by AECOM, could start construction this summer and be fully operational by 2025.
In response to an inquiry on what comes next, Goodman wrote in an email, “The Federal Aviation Administration will review the EA and issue a determination, likely during this summer. Depending on the determination, the FAA could issue a grant approval in August, which would allow grading and site work for the project to commence in September of 2023.”
On Thursday evening that all seems very fast to Ron and Kim Hawkins and Bruce and Michele Hanson who congregated in a hallway after viewing plans and submitting recorded comments. They learned of the meeting from a Rhode Island Airport Corporation email notification.
“They really didn’t have any dialogue,” Ron Hawkins said of the event. He termed recording individual comments rather than conducting an open meeting where attendees could make statements and ask questions, “a cowardly way to do it.” He said he is concerned by increased emissions even if the volume of flights has reduced from 2019 as well as pollution levels of Warwick Pond that is east of the airport.
Why not Quonset?
The Hawkins and Hansons asked why the city hadn’t taken a more active role in vetting the air cargo plan and talked about forming a group to question the proposed project. They asked what the city would be getting out of the project. They also questioned why air freight operations weren’t being located in Quonset with its easy highway access.
Michael Zarum, who closely follows airport developments and had joined the group discussion, said to satisfy FAA classification as a commercial airport, a runway extension would be required compromising Quonset as a deep water port.
The explanation given in the environmental assessment is: ““Quonset is a general aviation airport and is not certificated for scheduled airline operations. Even if the improvements could be made to bring the airport up to commercial service standards, the cost, schedule, and environmental impacts to do so would be far greater than the Proposed Action.”
Would additional funding flow to the city? The plan doesn’t propose that.
Emissions and noise from aircraft and trucks were foremost for Stan Smyzyk, who has lived on Strawberry Field Road west since 1971. His house faces the long term parking lot that will partially be converted into an access road to facilities housing FedEx and UPS and will serve as a pad for aircraft. To shield houses on Strawberry Field Road and Palace Avenue, the plan calls for construction of a berm topped by a wall and hidden by trees. Smyzyk would be happen with that only that the shield falls short of his house. It stops before reaching Post Road.
Smyzyk made that observation to AECOM and RIAC personnel when the air cargo project was outlined in a similar January session. Bryan Oscarson Associate Vice President/Aviation at AECOM said Thursday that aspect of the plan hadn’t changed. Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe stood alongside Smyzyk to reinforce extending the berm to Post Road. He related how some years ago he stood on Smyzyk’s porch while an idling Alligant jet sent an obnoxious plume of exhaust their way.
Howe was not put off by the absence of an open public forum. Rather, he pointed out Thursday’s session was conducted at a public venue, not the airport, adding, “We do have a voice in comments.” He noted the different components of the environmental assessment and how they were summarized at various stations in the Sawtooth atrium. Although personally impacted by the airport, Howe considers the development as a positive.
Wants airport to succeed
“We have this airport, do we want it to succeed?” he asks rhetorically. He points to airport infrastructure improvements including the people mover, saying those investments have helped the airport to attract carriers like Breeze Airways that plans to make Green a base of operations. He feels new air cargo facilities is a reaction to market demand that the state should take advantage of.
“The bulk of the project is to accommodate FedEx,” said Oscarson. He explained Green Airport would help address a “weak spot” in their coverage of Providence and the “south Boston area.”
“Boston is a huge market and there’s no more growth up there,” he said. Oscarson ruled out the construction of the giant Amazon distribution center in Johnston or the 500,000 square foot warehouse off Airport Road as impacting the decision for new air cargo facilities.
“They have nothing to do with this project,” he said. The facility is expected to increase the number of daily FedEx air cargo flights by two arrivals and two departures daily, however since FedEx plans to switch from Boeing 757 to 767 aircraft, which are wider and capable of carrying 60% more cargo He estimated truck traffic to the air cargo facility at between 30 to 40 vehicles daily.
According to the EA, “scheduled cargo aircraft operations would increase by two arrivals and two departures per day on average, beginning approximately one hour earlier than the current schedule to allow additional time to transfer cargo from the aircraft to the trucks for the trip north to Boston. FedEx truck traffic operations would increase from 36 to 69 trucks per day, with an estimated 70% to 80% of the trucks destined for Boston markets.”
UPS flight operations are not expected to change immediately or dramatically at the new location, the report says.