Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Written By JOHN HOWELL
this fall has been unusually warm, there's no guarantee that winter won't bring
its mix of snow and sleet and, with it, the de-icing of aircraft at
Remembering what happened in the winter of 2003, environmentalists are fearful that the ice and snow will mean more than a brief delay for passengers as an aircraft sits on the tarmac awaiting a spraying of glycol. Their concern is Buckeye Brook, a natural run for herring and alewives.
Three years ago the sweet smell of glycol was so strong it could be detected at the brook's outfall in Mill Cove well over a mile from the airport. In the wake of numerous discharges of the chemical during the winter months, sections of the brook took on an orange hue and there was a growth of bacteria that is believed to have killed off aquatic vegetation.
A lot has happened since that winter. The Rhode Island Airport Corporation has taken major steps to capture de-icing fluid before it reaches the airport stormwater system. Local groups, spearheaded by the Buckeye Brook Coalition, have mounted spring campaigns to clean up the brook and monitor its condition.
But for all the measures taken, RIAC still contests provisions of a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. And judging from the history of legal haggling, which continues today, it seems likely the airport will go through another winter without a permit even though DEM has clamped down on far less serious cases.
The latest twists in a convoluted series of events is Southwest Airlines’ petition to intervene in the matter, which the DEM has objected to, and the demand that RIAC produce a stormwater pollution prevention plan by Nov. 30.
Southwest’s petition was denied Nov. 16. Southwest argued that the permit is intended to constrain its and RIAC’s activities and that the airlines will suffer injury as a result. The Office of Water Resources successfully maintained that the airline’s intervention “would only impede the prompt and just resolution of this matter.”
As for the stormwater permit, the clock continues to tick.
But RIAC has disagreements.
According to RIAC Vice President of Environmental Management Systems Brenda Pope, RIAC submitted a prevention plan, or SWPPP, that met all permit issues which are not the subject of the permit appeal.
“There is an ongoing disagreement whether RIAC should be required to undertake the challenging and costly process of preparing a plan detailing how it will meet permit limits that are the subject matter of the pending appeal. RIAC intends to submit an updated SWPPP after a final decision on the permit limits has been rendered,” Pope told the Beacon via e-mail.
Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, has little patience for further delays.
In addition to concerns about the brook, he said last week RIAC "has raped" an area north of Airport Road, cutting down hundred of trees and decimating marginal wetlands.
"It seems to me whenever FAA says they want something they [RIAC] do it. I wish the governor would step in. Set a $1 million [fine] and get the RIPDES Permit," he said.
Insana blames the lawyers for delaying action on the permit and for circumventing measures that would otherwise protect the environment. The clearing of the trees he thinks would have required a wetlands permit, an action that would have been subject to City Council approval.
However, Insana said RIAC successfully argued the clearing of the trees would have no significant impact so they were allowed to go ahead without a wetlands permit.
"Removal of hundreds of trees, that's not a significant alternation?" he said.
As for the RIPDES permit, Insana said if DEM can’t resolve the issue and reach an agreement shortly he would turn to the Environmental Protection Agency and ask that it intervene.
Brain Wagner, legal counsel for the DEM, said yesterday the agency needs to establish a new discovery process and move toward a hearing. He said it is his understanding that RIAC and the airlines are working on “new ideas” that could lead to a resolution of differences and a permit.
A key issue is the system RIAC uses for recovering glycol.
Wagner said DEM has issues with the use of “sweeper vehicles” that vacuum the de-icing fluid since they must wait for aircraft to clear a gate before they can be deployed. As planes are often in and out of gates over an extended period, sweeper vehicles often don’t reach the areas until fluids are highly diluted and have flushed into storm drains. Wagner said DEM has suggested de-icing pads with collection drainage systems as well as a de-icing system where aircraft are driven under infrared lamps and are minimally sprayed with glycol.
He said with airport expansion and improvements being discussed, this should be the time to explore alternatives.
“The more of this stuff [glycol] they can collect the better,” he said.
Meanwhile, an elaborate system, operating from trailers and a temporary shed on the east side of the airfield near the maintenance facility now under construction, has been created to separate glycol from rainwater and snowmelt. The heart of the system, built by Canadian company Inland Technologies International, resembles a giant distillery and is so innovative that a Beacon photographer on a visit last Wednesday was told not to take close-up pictures of pumps and gauges for fear that competing companies might steal the technology.
The sweet smell of glycol lingered in the air although airlines have not needed to de-ice aircraft since last winter. However, RIAC site manager Robert Fournier had the answer.
The plant is in its initial phase of operation, he said. It is now being used to separate glycol from a 320,000-gallon reservoir, which resembles a giant, covered above-ground pool. This was de-icing fluid and runoff collected last winter.
like making maple syrup,” said Russ Erickson, technical supervisor for the
manufacturer. The difference is that in place of a pot over an open fire there
is a 1,000-square-foot tank. Erickson said Inland has found a way using heat
exchangers to dramatically reduce the energy needed to “boil off” the water and
capture the glycol. The company has operational plants at airports in
initial process produces a concentrate that is about 50 percent glycol. Further
separation takes place with the final product being sold to a company in
De-icing fluid is collected after aircraft are sprayed by three tug-pulled trailers with suction hoses and storage tanks. RIAC also has a truck that does the same thing, vacuuming the mixture of water and glycol from the tarmac.
Pope said additional measures are being taken by RIAC including the establishment of dedicated areas for de-icing, the award of a contract for a centralized virgin glycol storage and dispensing facility (which is projected to reduce the amount of glycol used by 30 percent) and evaluation of hybrid deicing technology. Other steps being taken are a formalized complaint response procedures should glycol odors be detected and the ongoing preparation of a draining master plan, which is in phase 2 and 3 of a five-phase process, said Pope.
RIAC has worked out an arrangement with the Warwick Sewer Authority to accept the residual water from the distillation process. Under the agreement during the period of Jan. 9 to May 31, RIAC is authorized to discharge a maximum of 5,000 gallons per day to the sewer. Each batch discharge will be tested to ensure the wastewater is in full compliance with limits set by our Industrial Pretreatment Program, said Joel Burke, superintendent of the authority.
spokeswoman Gail Mastrati said yesterday RIAC was
issued permits Sept. 18 for the removal of obstructions and the topping of
trees on the north side of