Citizens angered by limits of airport study; use of Quonset for cargo ruled out

Written by HOWELL, JOHN
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is it a matter of not remembering, or a new plan in the ongoing study of proposals to lengthen the Green Airport runway from 7,166 feet to 9,500 feet?

Community members selected because of their continued interest in the airport were asking themselves that question Tuesday as consultants retained by the Federal Aviation Administration gave a progress report on their study of environmental impacts of a longer runway.

Despite assurances that it is nothing new, citizens were surprised that suggested extensions to the safety areas for Runway 16/34, the shorter of Green’s two major runways that is not being considered for an extension, would dramatically impact wetlands associated with Buckeye Brook. The extension of the safety areas is being studied in order to make the runway compliant with FAA standards for a 1,000-foot safety area at both ends of runways. This distance can be shortened by 400 feet with the use of an engineered material arresting surface – a system of concrete blocks that buckle under the weight of an airplane and are able to stop it should it overshoot a runway.

But even with EMAS the wetlands would be impacted.

Richard Langseth didn’t recall that the wetland would be impacted, nor did Daniel Murphy. Others around the table at the Buttonwoods Community Center also looked perplexed.

Carol Lurie, project manager for FAA consultants Vanasse Hangen & Brustlin, assured participants that earlier drawings of the five runway configurations under study clearly showed the impact to the wetlands. “There’s no way to avoid the wetlands associated with Buckeye Brook,” said FAA’s environmental program manager John Silva.

The citizens’ group was none too happy with other developments since the last public briefing in the summer, either.

Lurie said VHB had pursued an inquiry as to why only one location for cargo facilities, a parcel of about 20 acres off Industrial Drive, was under review. Two more sites – property that RIAC has acquired to the west of Warwick Pond through the voluntary home acquisition program and land on Airport Road that would become available if the runway was extended to the north – have now been added to the study.

But dropped from the study is the option of relocating cargo facilities to Quonset.

Apart from inadequate facilities at Quonset (including an undersized runway), Lurie said studies found that facilities at Quonset would be a burden on Federal Express, UPS and DHL as they would be an additional 20 minutes away from their processing centers.

“Moving to Quonset doesn’t make sense,” she concluded.

That had many around the table mad. The city administration was not represented at the meeting.

Gloria Duggan said the concerns of the business community were being addressed at the expense of the residents.

“Take people into consideration,” she urged.

Lurie responded, “We can’t make them move to Quonset.” And Silva added, “They have a right to use T.F. Green Airport because it’s a public facility.”

“You can’t force them [the cargo carriers] out, but you can force us to take it,” Murphy interjected.

Raleigh Jenkins was angered by the process, which he says has become increasingly distant from the public. He said business interests are being represented without input from the public.

“That’s their needs, where are our needs?” he asked.

Hope Pilkington offered the solution. She pointed out that if cargo facilities are not built at Green, “then they would have to go to Quonset.”

There were other questions, too. Questions about the air traffic forecasts on which the proposed expanded facilities is based and the impact on the numbers of passengers that would be adversely affected if Green did not have a runway long enough to offer nonstop coast-to-coast flights.

Michael Zarum questioned the accuracy of economic impact studies showing the airport contributes $1.3 billion to the state’s economy. He said upon review of that total only 12 percent is directly related to the airport. Looking at it from another vantage, he said the airport costs city homeowners $1.2 billion. He called the airport an example of “bad planning” and questioned why more money is being put into a facility that “is severely environmentally contained.”

Lurie said VHB is in the environmental consequences phase of its study. She broke that down into three major components: a study of physical impacts such as wetland alternations; impact on noise and air quality, and impact on land use. Additional meetings will be held in February, March and April before the process of culling the findings and weighing one impact against another to reach the least environmentally adverse proposal is selected.

“It’s going to be a very difficult process,” she said.