As the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) moves to extend one Green Airport runway and improve the safety of another, it is opening communication with a series of meetings with residents and businesses directly affected.
RIAC interim CEO Peter A. Frazier said meetings would focus on “discrete subject matters.”
What will play out in the next couple of months is a departure from the mammoth productions RIAC staged in the past at Vets High School, the Sheraton and the Crowne Plaza as the agency explored various options to extend the main runway. Those sessions featured carefully crafted presentations, scores of maps and facilitators adept at moving the discussion along and shutting down people who gravitated to the spotlight to present their own agenda. The meetings, sometimes called “workshops” or hearings, were widely advertised. The news media came in force with television crews airing live updates. They were “shows” and people often left feeling they hadn’t been heard or had their questions answered.
Nothing like that is planned now that the projects have the green light. And there’s a significant amount of work to be done in a relatively short time, with large numbers of Warwick homeowners and businesses affected if construction is to start this year.
Meetings will begin to inform people as soon as this month whether their property will be eligible for voluntary acquisition; will be acquired by RIAC, whether they want to stay or not; or if their homes are eligible for soundproofing.
In agreements over the airport projects, the City Council requested that residents impacted by the development be provided timelines of when they could expect to be included in various programs.
Technically, the meetings are open to the public but don’t expect to see advertisements. RIAC is targeting its audiences and restricting discussion to a specific topic. Those directly affected by the issue will receive letters informing them of meetings.
The objective, said Frazier, is to address concerns as they relate to a specific issue – say, soundproofing – without having people in attendance looking for answers on other topics and leaving frustrated. Likewise, the sessions aren’t likely to go off on tangents.
Sessions start at the end of this month as RIAC focuses on an estimated 65 properties coming within runway protection zones when the projects are completed.
Next on the RIAC agenda are the 16 properties on Main Avenue that RIAC expects to acquire to realign the road to extend the runway. Frazier said those properties won’t be determined until the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s right-of-way analysis is completed no later than April.
RIAC will then hold meetings on the voluntary acquisition program. The estimate is that 76 properties come within the high noise contour, making them eligible for the program.
In the fourth series of meetings, RIAC will invite an estimated 444 homeowners to learn about the sound insulation program and when to expect work to begin on their home. Frazier is quick to point out that federal guidelines could change and that may reduce the number of homes eligible.
“Plainly, these are individually complex programs and that is why we intend to hold separate meetings,” Frazier said in an email about the meetings.
Mayor Scott Avedisian’s chief of staff, Mark Carruolo, who served as city planner during much of the extended study of airport projects, hasn’t seen a list of meetings, but he thinks the overall strategy is good.
“It makes sense now that all the big issues have been identified in the EIS [environmental impact statement],” he said.
Further, he noted, by limiting discussion, the meetings don’t run the risk of becoming gripe sessions.
There’s yet another topic, the relocation of Winslow Park playing fields, where Frazier plans a specific topic without branching off into other issues. One meeting with residents of the Lakeshore neighborhood, where the softball and soccer fields would be built on airport land cleared of houses, has already been held. Frazier said another would be held to follow up on questions raised then. He expects that meeting next month, when the next level of design is completed.
What if you think you are eligible for any of the programs but don’t know for certain? What if you don’t get a letter about a meeting when your neighbors do and you think there’s been a mistake?”
Frazier said that could happen and he has an answer.
“While we refine and finalize the individual programs, citizens with questions are free to call W.D. Schock at our Land Acquisition Site Office at 732-8320,” he said. He said the consultant retained by RIAC would have the most current information or direct the call to the appropriate RIAC staff.