WESTERLY — Two of the four runways at Westerly State Airport are in need of displacement or tree removal from their approaches and a third requires an aerial buffer, displacement, or tree removal according to a consultant retained by Rhode Island Airport Corporation. The facility’s fourth runway is free from obstacles and does not require immediate action, the consultant found.
Stantec Consulting Services Inc., a Boston-based firm specializing in consulting services in planning, engineering, and surveying, recommends either removing trees in the flight paths to runways 7 and 14 or displacing their thresholds. The displacement process involves reducing the usable space available for landings on runways but not physical alteration of the runways. RIAC hired the company to study the four runways and their approaches following unsuccessful attempts to remove trees from private property surrounding the airport.
Runway 25, according to Stantec, has no airspace penetrations but there is only a 10-foot gap between the airspace and trees on private property off of Chamber Way. The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce office is located on Chamber Way on town-owned property. In a report on its December survey of the four runways and their approaches, Stantec said RIAC could displace Runway 25 in anticipation of the trees growing or it could establish a 10-foot buffer between the trees and the airspace used by pilots when they are approaching the runway.
Runway 32, which a RIAC spokesman said was displaced in 1982, requires no immediate action, according to Stantec.
RIAC is expected to soon announce how it will respond to Stantec’s recommendations.
“RIAC is studying the report and will release a specific displacement plan in the coming days,” said Bill Fischer, RIAC spokesman, on Tuesday.
Fischer has previously said that displacement efforts would be temporary, pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed by five property owners against RIAC. The suit claims RIAC and the state Department of Transportation acted improperly when it took avigation easements to enter the property owners’ yards to remove trees. A temporary injunction issued by a Superior Court judge in February prevents RIAC from removing the trees until a trial is conducted. Eight other property owners accepted RIAC’s offer for removing their trees but RIAC agreed not to remove those trees pending the outcome of the trial.
The trees must be removed or runways displaced to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines, RIAC has said.
Trees on two parcels on Winnapaug Road and one parcel on Celtic Court penetrate the approach to Runway 7, according to Stantec’s report. Trees on a parcel on East Avenue and a parcel on Charles Avenue penetrate the approach zone to Runway 14.
The report also recommends additional surveying of the approach zones for all four runways in the spring. Stantec based its recommendations on a limited tree top survey performed in December and an analysis of historical treetop survey data.
Runway displacement causes pilots to take a steeper decline angle as they land. The changed angle creates greater clearance from obstacles, including trees. Runways 7 and 25 serve large aircraft (greater than 12,500 pounds). Runways 14 and 32 serve small aircraft (under 12,500 pounds).
The Town Council voted 5-2 on Dec. 18 to write to RIAC to express opposition to displacement of runways. RIAC had asked, for about seven months, for the council to publicly announce its desires for the future of the airport. Councilors cited safety and economic development concerns as reasons to oppose displacement. The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Commission are also opposed to displacement.