Homes to be lost to longer runway       

Warwick Beacon Online

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 



It’s a choice between the frogs and the families, says city Principal Planner William DePasquale. Either the proposal to extend the main Green Airport runway to 9,350 feet takes lots of homes and about 10 acres of wetlands or takes fewer homes and about 32 acres of wetlands.



Regardless, all five of the options being studied result in the acquisition of 204 to 339 homes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and that has Mayor Scott Avedisian outraged. The number of houses could be even higher.



Reports prepared by FAA consultants Vanasse Hangen & Brustlin show 213 to 376 homes would be taken by the five runway options under consideration with an additional 36 to 60 houses coming within the 75-decibel noise contour. Those homes would also have to go. VHB projected lost city property tax revenues at $1.5 million to $2.2 million annually.



On Friday the FAA conducted a half-hour telephone conference, ostensibly to answer questions relative to a two-page release issued to the news media 90 minutes earlier. The release highlighted aspects from detailed reports on the environmental consequences of a longer runway delivered that morning to the city.



The conclusion that a longer runway would dramatically impact the city doesn’t surprise Avedisian. City estimates of the number of homes that would have to go ranged up to 350, a total the FAA ridiculed at the time on the basis that no study had been conducted.



On Friday Avedisian recalled the city had used airport data to come up with the numbers and he said he’s prepared to accept the apology of FAA spokesman James Peters, who had dismissed his projections.



But there’s much more to this than a war of words.



As DePasquale observes, this aspect of the study, which has already examined impacts on wildlife, historic sites, air quality, vehicular traffic and a variety of other topics, for the first time identifies what homes would have to go in each of the scenarios.



“What do you tell these people? Do you tell them not to go to Lowe’s and put a new roof on their home?” he said.



Homes that would be taken by a longer runway are part of it.



DePasquale suggests those homeowners that would be left in a neighborhood pay a visit to properties now abutting airport property and imagine what it is going to be like to look through a chain-link fence at a runway or clear zone.



And, obviously, the impact reaches further, although because of the number of houses acquired fewer residents fall within the high noise contours of some of the options. What’s not measured is the number of additional homes outside those contours to be affected, plus the impact on Governor Francis Farms and Pawtuxet to the north and Apponaug, Cowesett and Potowomut to the south.



“Anyway you push this they’re [the airport’s] going to have wetlands and homes,” said DePasquale.



“We don’t have any preference for any option,” Carol Lurie, project manager for VHB, said in the Friday conference call. Further, she said, the firm continues to gather data and “we’re not in a decision-making mode.”



Lurie said that consultants have tentatively planned a late May meeting at which a wide range of environmental impacts concerning each of the options would be reviewed and discussed.



And Brenda Pope, vice president of environmental systems for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, who was also on the conference call, urged people “not to panic” as no decisions have been reached and it will be a long time before anything is implemented.



Nonetheless, the maps given the city planning department identify specific homes and businesses. Looking at those numbers, DePasquale did some rough estimates and calculated just the acquisition of property could be in the range of $90 million to $100 million. Two of the options that would have the runway lengthened to the north call for the relocation of Airport Road to the north of Spring Green Pond, intersecting Warwick Avenue at Squantum Drive.



As for the southerly end of the runway, four of the options would require the construction of a tunnel for Main Avenue.



Pope said any project would be funded by a combination of FAA and RIAC funds, although at this point that cost has not been calculated.



“It’s going to be a very, very expensive project,” she said.



The project is also projected to bring benefits to the community. The FAA highlighted projections that aviation activity would generate $53 million in new personal income and $138 million in business revenues by 2020. Lurie said yesterday the estimates do not represent a full economic analysis but the impact of 12 nonstop coast-to-coast flights daily from Green, resulting from additional jobs related to those flights and passenger spending.



Lurie said VHB has completed the environmental impact analysis and will now solicit feedback from affected agencies and the city.



She expects that feedback to give a picture of “what it all means” so a preferred option or a revised option becomes apparent. Lurie does not expect that will occur by the May meeting, although “[we] hope to give an indication of where we’re going.”



She expects that picture to emerge by late summer. She said at least three public meetings would be held before a final selection is made and filed.



Runway 16-34, the shorter of Green’s runways, which lacks 1,000-foot safety zones, is also part of the study. Adding those safety areas so as to comply with FAA regulations could result in 80 percent of the six to 53 businesses identified being displaced by the project. The improved safety areas could also significantly impact Buckeye Brook wetlands as well as the stream.