Now that construction is nearing the halfway point on oftball and soccer fields to replace those at Winslow Park people living in the neighborhood are begging the Rhode Island Airport Corporation not …
Now that construction is nearing the halfway point on oftball and soccer fields to replace those at Winslow Park people living in the neighborhood are begging the Rhode Island Airport Corporation not to let children play there.
In fact, Wilbur Avenue resident Albert Gaudet predicted, if RIAC moves ahead with the fields, “the parents are going to boycott the park” because of jet exhaust fumes.
Neither the playing fields nor how clearing the area of trees has affected the neighborhood was the designated topic of Tuesday evening’s RIAC workshop at the Buttonwoods Community Center. Rather, as explained at the outset, the purpose of the session was to discuss the eventual placement of the air quality monitoring station that was shut down and temporarily relocated from the site of the fields.
And while there appeared consensus the station should be returned to close to where it had been, if anything to measure the level of pollutants children could be exposed to, it was the overall impact of the airport to the neighborhood that was the focus of complaints.
“I want out,” said Janice Pangman whose home on Rowe Avenue abuts the site of the future Winslow Park. “Please, you bought the other part of the neighborhood out, it’s our turn now.”
Several in the audience of 45 chanted “Buy us” to echo her plea.
Before holding up a yellow blanket that was discolored after she had used it to shut of air flow from upstairs rooms, Pangman said, “Putting children there [at the future fields] is a big mistake.”
Pangman said the blanket, even though it was inside her home, is proof of the polluted air children would be subjected to. Pangman complained of burning eyes and throat because of the increased level of jet fumes since trees were removed to build the fields.
RIAC counsel Peter Frazier reasoned that the current fields off Main Avenue are in line to the runway, putting players under the planes and in the runway protection zone.
“Being on the side of the runway is superior,” he said.
No one at the meeting bought it.
Asked yesterday about the health and safety of locating the fields next the runway, Mayor Scott Avedisian was comfortable with the site, pointing out that the Departments of Environmental Management and Health had reviewed it.
“I think Kelly [Fredericks] is working on that,” he said, referring to a buffer to the fields and the neighborhood. “He’s looking at the options.”
Reached yesterday, Fredericks said, “We are looking to see if there are some buffer things we can do to at least reduce the fume and the noise issue.”
Fredericks also said there would be additional meetings to solicit the input of neighbors as construction projects proceed.
The existing Winslow Park is in the path of a runway extension that will also require the relocation of Main Avenue. As part of the agreement, under which the City Council dropped legal action against the longer runway, RIAC agreed to relocate the fields.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who was at the meeting, came under attack for favoring the location for the fields.
“They [RIAC] didn’t care 20 and 30 years ago and they don’t care now,” charged Roy Dempsey of Governor Francis Farms. “Who put this ball field next to the runway?” he asked rhetorically. “She’s the one who put those ball fields there.”
Rob Cote said the decision to relocate the fields next to the runway “speaks to the lack of knowledge of our public officials…you’re going to put kids playing next to jets.”
Vella-Wilkinson responded that her preferred site was the Knight Campus of CCRI, but members of the Board of Governors for Higher Education rejected it. She said a portion of Bend Field had been considered for the two soccer leagues, but an agreement could not be reached between them as to which would have control. A third option, which she said she refused to consider, was not to have the leagues play.
“My vote was with CCRI and I fought it all the way up to the governor,” she said.
In the end, with no other alternative, she pointed out, the council endorsed the site for the fields by 9-0. In a call yesterday, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur recalled, in approving the airport agreement, the council placed a number of requirements on RIAC.
“This was not rubber stamped,” he said.
Under the current schedule, the fields are to be ready for play by next July.
It was the nearly complete removal of all the trees that provoked the most complaints.
“Did anyone think of the effect of taking down all those trees?” asked Rowe Avenue resident Christopher Ougheltree, looking to RIAC representatives, who remained silent. “There’s no buffer there anymore. It seems like you don’t consider the neighbors…we’re an after-thought.”
He complained of the increased level of noise and fumes, as did others.
As for relocating the air quality monitor, Frazier said RIAC had not followed the provision as provided by the law but it was an emergency situation because of the construction.
“RIAC’s lack of planning is not our emergency,” countered Michael Zarum.
Zarum, who closely follows airport developments, said air quality readings meet federal standards because those standards fail to consider ultra-fine particulates that, up to fairly recently, couldn’t be accurately measured.
“They [the readings] don’t breach the federal standard because it’s not the right standard,” he said.
Zarum said the area RIAC cleared of homes some years ago should have been left as open space.
“RIAC knew this was coming and they failed,” he said.
The issue was also raised whether the neighborhood abutting the current Winslow Park would see a similar leveling of trees, which serve as a buffer. Fredericks said yesterday, with the runway extension of 1,534 feet, RIAC would need to extend the runway protection zone, requiring the removal of a significant number of trees.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Rep. Joseph McNamara reported that the Warwick delegation to the General Assembly favors extending the law requiring RIAC to conduct air quality monitoring. The law has a sunset provision that takes effect next year, although under the agreement with the city RIAC must conduct two additional years of testing. Currently, RIAC has four monitoring stations around the airport. Rep. Eileen Naughton is introducing the extension that was endorsed earlier in the day by Mayor Avedisian, Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono and Vella-Wilkinson.
Responding to complaints of dust related to the field construction, Kelly Fredericks, RIAC president and CEO, said measures are being taken to help neighbors.
“Let us know what the issue is,” he said.
RIAC personnel also said that steps are being taken to reduce “the shaking” of homes caused by compacting equipment.