Warwick : City girds for legal tussles over T.F. Green

Providence Journal

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, March 29, 2007

By Cynthia Needham, Journal Staff Writer


WARWICK — Now that the preliminary consequences of expanding T.F. Green Airport have been made public, the city says it will hire lawyers to review the expansion plans and what they would mean for Warwick.


The idea is to give the city a sense of what offense it could mount in court, if necessary.


A legal team specializing in aviation “will analyze all the different scenarios to help guide us in our opposition,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said.


Lawyers specializing in this particular subset of the law can help determine what is appropriate (or not appropriate) for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation to propose, he said.


As the airport looks to expand its main runaway to 9,350 feet — the length needed to accommodate planes large enough to provide nonstop coast-to-coast service — FAA consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. is examining the effects of five proposed scenarios on the community, including impacts on quality of life, the economy and the environment.


The report’s draft summary, released earlier this month, estimated that if the airport expands, it will displace at least 204 houses, as many as 53 businesses and dozens of acres of wetlands. Expansion would also increase noise pollution and cut the city’s tax base by as much as $2.2 million a year.


For several years running, the city included $150,000 in its budget for use of an aviation lawyer, were one needed. But the mayor says he deliberately waited to put a legal team on retainer, knowing it would take time for the draft summary of the community impact to be completed.


Now that summary is public, Avedisian says city must start looking out for itself.


Warwick is soliciting proposals from law firms and expects to see interest from firms beyond Rhode Island. Unlike a bid solicitation process, the idea is not to accept the cheapest offer of services, but to choose the team that shows experience in this subset of the law.


But Warwick citizens worry that the legal hiring should have been done sooner.


“This is good news, but we’re getting kind of late in the game. We should have had gotten legal representation for the citizens of Warwick several years ago,” said Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition.


He and other expansion opponents say a lawyer should have been on board when the city first heard that environmental impacts were being studied, so that he or she could keep the city up to date on what was happening with that study and help strategize as the process moved forward. Now a lawyer would just be playing catch-up, they say.


“Plus $150,000 is not even a drop in the bucket when you’re talking about the magnitude of this airport expansion. Lawyers will go through that in a week,” Insana said. “It’s going to take a lot more money. On the other hand, is this coming too late anyway? Did we drag our feet too long?”


“This is good news, but we’re getting kind of late in the game. We should have had gotten legal representation for the citizens of Warwick


several years ago.”


Steve Insana

President, Buckeye Brook Coalition