Draft agreement addressed airport issues raised by City Council
To the Editor:
As has been well publicized, the Warwick City Council has voted unanimously to file an appeal of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Record of Decision (ROD) for T.F. Green Airport. The council’s action has attracted a good amount of media coverage in print, radio and on television. My administration has worked diligently for more than 10 years throughout the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, engaging the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) and the FAA at every step to ensure that all of Warwick’s concerns were adequately addressed and that the EIS process was followed to the letter of the law.
Further, throughout the past decade, my administration spent a substantial amount of time researching the city’s legal options and interviewing no fewer than eight nationally prominent law firms with considerable experience in airports and aviation law. We were advised as we worked our way through the process that we should keep all of our legal options open but that the most beneficial course of action was to negotiate an agreement with the airport operator (RIAC) and attempt to have that agreement included in the final ROD.
Approximately 16 months ago, in July 2010, following several months of negotiations with RIAC, I submitted to the Warwick City Council for its consideration a Draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with RIAC. The Draft MOA was rejected by the City Council with minimal discussion, no suggestions on how to improve the agreement and with no direction to RIAC or the administration as to what the City Council wanted to include.
The Draft Memorandum of Agreement included such items as:
Relocation of the Winslow Park facilities (home of Apponaug Girls Softball and Warwick Firefighters Soccer leagues) to new facilities adjacent to the airport but in an area out of the existing flight path.
Set mutually acceptable (to RIAC and the City) boundaries for the extent of homes to be acquired for noise mitigation rather than following the piecemeal practices of the past that have resulted in isolated homes and fractured neighborhoods.
Development of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan that would allow for the creation of appropriate development around the airport. This puts property back on the tax rolls – Warwick currently loses roughly $11 million annually in lost property tax revenue due to prior land acquisitions – and RIAC would pay 25 percent of the cost for the city’s comprehensive plan update, which is currently underway.
The relocation and installation of a new water main on Airport Road at no cost to the city. This critical piece of infrastructure has a long history of breaks resulting in disruption of service and continual emergency repairs annually.
RIAC agreed to continue performing air quality monitoring in accordance with state laws, to add an additional air monitoring station at Wickes Elementary School and to extend the air monitoring beyond the statutory end date of July 31, 2015.
At the time, RIAC also agreed to petition the FAA to include the Memorandum of Agreement as part of the FAA ROD, thereby making it legally enforceable and making FAA funding contingent upon adhering to the terms of the agreement.
The ability to include the MOA in the ROD has now passed, however, due to the City Council’s inaction on the MOA.
And for these concessions, the city would simply agree not to challenge the ROD on the mutually agreed-upon points that are contained in the agreement. This seemed a reasonable position in that one would not appeal items that were determined to be mutually agreed upon.
Yet now certain City Council members are quoted in the media as claiming that they needed to sue the FAA in order to negotiate such an agreement with RIAC due to concerns about such issues as air quality monitoring, a schedule for residential acquisition, etc. The fact of the matter is these issues were all addressed in the Draft MOA that was offered to and rejected by the City Council in July 2010.