Warwick Beacon Online

Editorial: Minimize the impacts       

Tuesday, November 21, 2006 


What should come first: the safety of people or the environment?


That question is being raised at Green Airport as planners look to the future of the facility and environmentalists look for safeguards in the day-to-day operation of the airport.


Last week a group of citizens that have made it their cause to follow environmental impact studies of proposed airport improvements (including a lengthening of the main runway to 9,500 feet) were surprised to learn that extending safety areas on the shorter runway would dramatically encroach into Buckeye Brook wetlands. The shorter runway, which would not be lengthened under the proposal, has not come under close scrutiny and had gone pretty much unnoticed.


But, as the group learned from the Federal Aviation Administration representative in attendance, in order for the runway to comply with safety standards, the areas at each end of the runway must be extended. The areas allow an aircraft to come to a stop should it travel beyond the end of the runway.


The second matter, an ongoing issue of dispute, is a permit for the airport’s de-icing operations.


As has been the experience, if not recovered de-icing fluid – basically glycol, like that found in automobile antifreeze – will drain into Buckeye Brook. It happened three years ago when brook waters were coated with the sticky chemical and its waters became an orangey color. It is not known to what extent the glycol damages the environment, but Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, believes it is principally responsible for bacterial growth in the stream and a section that is devoid of aquatic vegetation.


Insana is incensed that after more than three years the Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation continue to fight over regulations defining the use and disposal of de-icing fluids. He wants to see controls put in place and RIAC held accountable.


We see his point, but as with runway safety areas this is not a simple matter that can be resolved with a set of written regulations.


In both cases systems can be designed that minimize impacts.


Runway safety areas can be built of cement blocks that collapse under the weight of an aircraft and reduce the safety area from 1,000 to 600 feet. As for de-icing, some airports are using an infrared system that reduces the volume of glycol needed to de-ice an aircraft. At Green, RIAC has installed an elaborate mechanism to “sweep” the tarmac of glycol, which is often mixed with snow and sleet, with vacuum trucks. From there the cocktail is stored until it can be distilled and the glycol recycled.


DEM has issues with the system, saying it could be more efficient. We urge them to be diligent and persistent even if it takes a little longer to reach an agreement.


Let’s not forget as much as we want environmental protections no one wants to compromise safety. Growth and human activity – in this case the operation of an airport – don’t complement the environment. But let’s work to minimize the impacts.