NEWS

Picozzi, RIAC near cargo agreement, still far apart on PILOT money

By ADAM ZANGARI
Posted 1/11/24

By ADAM ZANGARI

Mayor Frank Picozzi is looking to turn the tables on the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) following the corporation’s action ending $500,000 in Payment In Lieu Of …

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NEWS

Picozzi, RIAC near cargo agreement, still far apart on PILOT money

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Mayor Frank Picozzi is looking to turn the tables on the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) following the corporation’s action ending $500,000 in Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) funds in compliance with a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The city has found 1994 state legislation requiring RIAC pay the city $275,000 with that amount rising to $750,000 in 2005.

Picozzi spoke on the issue at the Warwick City Council meeting on Jan. 3, saying that the state is picking up the case to compensate the city.

“2005 and on, the city was supposed to be receiving $750,000, and they never have by my accounting,” Picozzi said. “According to state law, the airport corporation seems to owe us about $4.5 million, and I’m going to explore getting reimbursed for that. We have no record of them ever giving us more than $500,000.”

Whether or not RIAC will pay that money, though, is a different story. Picozzi expects the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to rule that RIAC doesn’t have to pay it, given that they already have found that RIAC to not have to pay the $500,000.

Should the airport not pay the $500,000, then the state is on the hook. Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick) said that the state would provide Warwick with that money, which would have to come out of the state budget.

“The state is obligated under current law if the airport fails for any reason to make that payment for the city,” Shekarchi said. “In absence of change in state law, the state will fulfill that obligation. As Speaker of the House, I will make sure that Warwick gets what they are entitled to under the current law.”

Picozzi said that State Representative Joseph McNamara (D-Warwick) also proposed legislation in 2002 to give the Mayor of Warwick three appointments out of the seven members of RIAC’s board. When RIAC was first incorporated, the mayor had one appointment on the at-the-time five-person board, though the office lost the power when the board was restructured.

McNamara introduced legislation last Thursday to give the mayor a single appointment to the RIAC board. The bill is co-sponsored by Warwick’s House delegation.

“I’ve earned a lot of respect for [McNamara] with this, because he’s been truly my one ally in this,” Picozzi said. “He went to the governor’s office, he spoke with me, we’ve spoken on the phone. He’s putting this bill in.”

McNamara said that he is optimistic that the bill would pass the General Assembly, though he stopped short of saying that he was confident in its passage.

“It’s important, I believe, for both the airport corporation and the city,” McNamara said. “Both will benefit from better communication and a shared vision of success for the airport and the economy.”

Shekarchi, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said that there’s still some work that needs to be done before the bill can get through the General Assembly, and there will also need to be a resolution in support of it from the City Council.

RIAC Assistant Vice President of Media and Public Relations John Goodman had no comment on the legislation.

McNamara also said that RIAC should appeal the FAA’s decision, and questioned its timing, calling it “very suspicious” that it came when Picozzi questioned the corporation’s original memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Picozzi said he would sign the MOU that he received on Jan. 2 from RIAC. However, that that was contingent on the RIAC Board of Directors ratifying it later today, and he will not sign it before then.

The conflict between the city and the airport has been almost three years in the making, when RIAC initially informed the city of plans to build a cargo facility south of the terminal in an area used for long term parking.  The plan that RIAC submitted to the FAA did not include a guarantee to keep cargo trucks off of local roads or Ward 3 Councilman Tim Howe’s request for a sound barrier for local communities, which Picozzi said were deal-breakers and made the MOU “a joke.”

“We already have too much traffic,” Picozzi said. “We were building a City Centre where we had 1,800 units coming soon. We just didn’t want it. It was detrimental to the city.”

Picozzi said the situation with RIAC developed quickly, and thus his remarks to the council were distinctly different than what he originally anticipated.

“I hadn’t heard anything as of last Friday- it was a standoff. Nothing was going on,” Picozzi said. “[Tuesday] morning, we got back to work at 9:10 a.m. They sent us an MOU with everything we asked for… I don’t know what prompted that, what happened over the weekend, but I’m happy.”

Picozzi said that while he had heard from residents who believe he should have asked for more concessions from RIAC, he thinks that city has done all that it can, saying that the cargo facility “is a fact of life at the airport.”

According to Goodman, site preparations for the cargo facility have already begun, though sound barrier construction has yet to start since RIAC does not have the necessary property rights.

While Picozzi said that this matter was not coming before the City Council, he still wanted to make sure they were up to date on developments. A later development, though- an easement for RIAC’s construction of the sound barrier- requires council approval.

In other City Council meeting developments, Tammy Bouchard Baker was officially appointed to the Building Board of Appeals and Carlos Pinheiro was appointed as Tree Warden.

council, RIAC, cargo

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