Airport agency balks at tougher deicer regs

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Providence Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- The state Airport Corporation is contesting new rules to keep aircraft deicer out of Buckeye Brook and Narragansett Bay, saying it has little control over how the airlines use those chemicals at T.F. Green Airport.

Environmental groups that had pushed the state to enforce clean-water laws at the airport said they were "disappointed" to learn the corporation was challenging a stormwater discharge permit approved last month by the Department of Environmental Management.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Warwick City Hall said they will oppose any effort to weaken the conditions attached to the permit.

The Airport Corporation has appealed to the DEM to ease the stipulations. As of yesterday, the DEM had not scheduled a hearing on the appeal.

In a statement, Mark Brewer, the Airport Corporation's president, said the agency "has no control over certain business operations impacted by the permit, including how much deicing fluid is applied to an aircraft, and where. That's controlled entirely by the pilot in command."

Planes must be free of ice upon takeoff to ensure the wings are able to provide lift, but about two-thirds of the propylene glycol deicing solutions used at Green ends up in the environment. When the fluid breaks down, it causes a rotten-egg odor and consumes oxygen in waterways, contributing to fish kills.

Each spring, Buckeye Brook supports an annual herring run. Several species of fish enter the brook at Mill Cove, on Narragansett Bay, to reach spawning waters in Spring Green Pond and Warwick Pond.

The stormwater system at Green has dumped unregulated amounts of deicer into Buckeye Brook since 1992, when the most recent discharge permit expired. The new five-year permit that the DEM approved last month would take effect Jan. 1.

It sets limits on how much propylene glycol the airport's stormwater system can discharge into the brook, and requires testing to ensure compliance. A city ordinance adopted this month regards any unlicensed discharge of aircraft deicer into the brook as a form of unlawful dumping.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday, "It's well within RIAC's legal rights to appeal, but the city hopes DEM will stay the course" and resist any weakening of the permit.

Brewer said the airport already is cleaning up and recovering as much deicer as it can. If it attempts to meet the standards imposed by the new permit, the cost of glycol recycling will become "prohibitive," he said.

Steve Insana, vice president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, said, "After operating on an expired permit for the last 12 years, you'd think that as a friendly neighbor they would not appeal the revised permit. You'd think they would comply with it."

"I don't want to knock them, because we do have a good relationship," Insana said. "There's an open-door policy over there any time I want to go and check the wetlands and make sure the stream is clear for the [herring] run."

At the Conservation Law Foundation, lawyer Christopher D'Ovidio said, "Any quasi-state agency should be a model corporation, a model for other corporations on how to comply with state and federal law. There should be cooperation, not resistance."

The corporation, he said, is legally responsible for everything the airlines do on its property. It may have to "build infrastructure" to recover greater amounts of deicer, he said, requiring airlines to deice aircraft in a designated spot whenever possible, or even inside a special hangar with built-in glycol collection systems.

"They've spent millions of dollars over the years on expanding and improving this airport," and propose to spend $1 billion more on a bigger terminal and longer runway, D'Ovidio said. "The cost of complying with this permit is part of the cost of doing business. If they have to raise fees for their tenants, then that's what they need to do."

Brewer said the corporation already has spent $5 million to set up "a nationally recognized, state-of-the-art glycol-management program" at Green, and that complying with the terms of the permit would cost an additional $10 million.