Providence Journal

Avedisian rips study on Green expansion

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, May 24, 2007

By Cynthia Needham

Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK — Mayor Scott Avedisian is blasting the findings of a draft Federal Aviation Administration study that examines the local impact of expanding T.F. Green Airport, calling the review incomplete and at times, seriously flawed.

In a 73-page document sent to the FAA, the mayor berates the study’s methodology and says it grossly underestimates the impact the expansion will have on an already congested city in the years to come.

At issue are five proposed options for expanding the airport’s main runway, any of which Mayor Scott Avedisian states “will cause substantial, unacceptable, irreversible, adverse health, social and environmental

All will erode local wetlands, fracture neighborhoods, take homes from low- to moderate-income families who may not be able to afford to buy elsewhere, demolish recreational fields, lessen air quality and increase noise pollution, the mayor contends.

Yet in the FAA-commissioned report — a draft summary of which was publicly released in March — such consequences “are either justified or explained away as outside the purview of study and analysis,” Avedisian notes. The study assumes many of those problems already exist and won’t be made worse by the expansion.

“The City of Warwick demands and deserves a more comprehensive assessment of the existing and long-term health, social and environmental impacts on our community beyond a bare-minimum analysis,” Avedisian says.

It is not unusual for the mayor to criticize the airport’s expansion plans — the city’s overall relationship with the airport has been strained, and the Avedisian administration, along with a team of airport critics, have openly opposed expansion from its earliest rumblings — but the mayor’s latest response ratchets up that friction.

Since February 2005, the FAA has been studying the impact of expanding T.F. Green’s main runway to 9,350 feet, the length it says is needed to accommodate airplanes large enough to provide nonstop coast-to-coast service. That stance was reiterated in another FAA report issued last week that said the airport must complete its proposed expansion if it is to meet travel demand by 2015.

The exact expansion plans will not be selected until later this year. As part of the selection process however, FAA consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. examined the effects of five proposed scenarios on the community.

The FAA has never publicly released the complete version of that report. A draft summary showed that depending on which way the main runway is pushed out, it could swallow at least 204 houses and up to 53 businesses, eroding the city’s tax base by as much as $2.2 million annually. On the flip side, aviation-related economic gains for Rhode Island would total $53 million in personal income and generate an estimated $138 million in business revenues by 2020, but it would also increase noise pollution and wipe out dozens of acres of wetlands.

Avedisian believes those findings actually underestimate the extent of what expansion will do to the city. His response dissects the FAA study page by page, assailing the agency for what he calls an incomplete and biased look at the long list of consequences. He demands that the FAA go back and conduct a more site-specific study before it embarks on a multimillion-dollar construction project.

FAA regional spokesman Jim Peters said the agency expected and even invited such feedback. “The coordination agreement that we have with the city gives them an opportunity to review the work and submit their comments to us. It’s part of the project’s dialogue with the city and with the federal and state agencies that are taking part in this review. It is not unexpected that the city would have some comments about the projects to date,” he said.

Peters refused to comment on the specifics of Avedisian’s allegations, but said the FAA will review them to see if there is work that can be done to address the city’s concerns. The FAA has said in the past that it is too early to isolate more exact consequences of expansion.

T.F. Green spokeswoman Patti Goldstein had little to say about the mayor’s complaints, calling them an issue between the city and the FAA. The Rhode Island Airport Corporation did not receive a copy of the report, she said. “And I can’t comment on something we haven’t seen.”

So why issue his list of complaints now, more than two months after the FAA report? Avedisian says it took that long for the city’s planning department to pick apart the FAA report. “This is a compilation of all the comments we have made throughout the EIS process,” he said. “We finally brought together all the issues we’ve been talking about over the last seven years.”

The five proposed scenarios for expanding the main runway are posted on VHB’s website at:

Summaries of the five options are:

•Extend the main runway mostly to the south. It would require that Main Avenue be tunneled under the runway, but would not require relocation of Airport Road to the north. It would require taking a substantial number of houses in the Greenwood area and some commercial areas at the corner of Post and Airport roads. It would also have substantial impact on the Buckeye Brook wetlands.

•Extend the main runway mostly to the north. It would require moving Airport Road, but not Main Avenue, as well as taking many houses in the Spring Green neighborhood and would impact Buckeye Brook.

•Extend the runway both north and south, requiring tunneling Main Avenue under the runway and moving Airport Road. It would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands to the north and would take some houses in the Greenwood neighborhood.

•Extend the runway primarily south, to avoid moving the east end of Airport Road. It would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands but would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses in Greenwood.

•Extend the runway both north and south. This alternative requires less relocation of Airport Road and limits effects on wetlands. It would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses both north and south of the runway.


•The Federal Aviation Administration will hold a public meeting on June 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza hotel, Route 5,Warwick, to outline and take questions on runway-expansion.

•The FAA will report back to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation with a final recommendation later this year.