RIAC offers to reduce efforts to allow instrument landings at Westerly airport, eliminate trees

RIAC offers to reduce efforts to allow instrument landings at Westerly airport, eliminate trees

Record-Journal
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A plane gets ready to land on a runway at the Westerly State Airport in March 2016. Sun file photo

WESTERLY — Three sets of options for the future of Westerly State Airport have emerged after a meeting between town officials and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, the state agency that manages the facility.

Under two of the options RIAC would forgo removing trees from properties surrounding the airport and give up, either long-term or for a shorter period of time, the ability for planes to land at night or during inclement weather. The third option would see RIAC move ahead with plans to remove the trees by trying to follow through on eminent domain procedures to acquire the legal right to enter the properties and chop down the trees.

Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy reviewed the options with the Town Council during its meeting Monday. After months of turmoil that erupted when RIAC initiated eminent domain procedures on several property owners, RIAC asked the council to submit a description of what the town wanted from the airport. The tree removal project is currently on hold following the issuance of an injunction by a Superior Court judge in February.

Rather than answer RIAC’s question, the council directed Kennedy to instead speak with RIAC to determine the corporation’s plans for the airport. In response to the council’s request, Kennedy and other town staff met RIAC officials on July 6.

On Monday the council agreed to schedule a special meeting dedicated to the airport and Kennedy’s report. RIAC representatives will be invited to participate in the meeting, which councilors said might be scheduled for late October — the first time the council will have a free Monday, the day of its regular meetings.

Residents will be encouraged to attend and comment and Hatsy Moore, a resident who has helped lead a fight against the tree removal project, will be invited to participate. Moore is one of the residents who sued RIAC seeking to stop the tree removal project.

According to Kennedy’s report, RIAC’s current plan is to “keep the status quo at this point, meaning no further tree cutting.” Under this scenario pilots could not make landings relying on airplane instruments to land at night or in poor weather when visibility is limited. This would result in reducing the runway threshold on the runway serving planes that fly over Avondale to access the airport. Reducing the threshold and not allowing instrument landings would not affect New England Airlines, which offers flights to and from Block Island and other destinations from the airport, Kennedy said in the report.

RIAC could either decommission instrument landings, a decision that could take years to reverse upon a request to the Federal Aviation Administration, or RIAC could continue in its current mode of not allowing night or poor weather landings but reinstitute the landings if the town decides it is in its interest to have the trees removed and the instrument landings resumed.

Reinstituting instrument landings would require an inspection of the area by the FAA, a process Kennedy said would take several months rather than the years-long process of resumption after formal decommission. By not allowing instrument landings but not decommissioning the ability to perform them, the Town Council would retain the ability to seek their resumption if the council wanted, for instance, to take advantage of a strong economy, Kennedy said.

Councilor Philip Overton said Kennedy’s report appeared to mark a significant development.

“This is the first time we’re being told we can make a decision,” regarding the airport’s future, Overton said.

Councilor Jack Carson asked about the status of an advisory committee the council approved in June. The committee has not yet been fully populated and the council is awaiting additional applications from people interested in serving on the committee, according to Overton, who serves on the council’s appointments committee.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com


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