Editorial: Threat of closing Westerly Airport doesn’t help an already tense situation

Editorial: Threat of closing Westerly Airport doesn’t help an already tense situation

Record-Journal
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The discussion about the future of look and feel of Westerly State Airport has been cast in a new light now that word is out that the quasi-public agency that runs the facility has put closure on the table. That seems a bit extreme, no?

On Sunday we reported that the Rhode Island Airport Corporation had written to Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy and made more than a passing reference to closing the facility as one option since residents seem so bothered by the place. Make that some residents.

We don’t want to see the airport close and most people in the region probably don’t want to see the airport close. The airport authority seems to be leaping way ahead in making statements about closing. Granted, RIAC is facing a lawsuit by some of the neighbors who have complained about its effort to clear trees on their property by eminent domain. But homeowners have a right to fight when they feel their property is being unfairly taken. Nevertheless the authority’s statements ramp up this issue tenfold.

“Given the amount of negative attention and consternation the airport seems to bring to each and every Town Hall meeting, the best solution may be to close the airport,” wrote Alan R. Andrade, a RIAC senior vice president. “Please know that closing the airport is a real option for RIAC.”

Referring to the need for RIAC to meet requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration to keep airspace around the airport safe by removing trees and other potential hazards, Andrade said, “To do so requires impacts to private property surrounding the airport. This approach has painted RIAC as being problematic and inconsiderate to the community. Please know that we will do whatever the town asks of us, but I need an answer soon. We are under pressure from the FAA to address the known hazards that currently exist to the existing runway approach surfaces.”

This threat has the folks on Block Island trembling, since Westerly Airport is often described as a lifeline to islanders for everything from medical care to take out from their favorite Westerly restaurant, not to mention tradesmen to maintain their homes. The ferry just doesn’t get it done in some cases.

We don’t want to see the airport closed either. As noted in Sunday’s story, the airport generates business for this region whether through direct employment or by facilitating employment in the manner described above. Kennedy and Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki attested to that. Even the attorney representing neighbors said his clients don’t count closure as a goal.

“My clients want it to remain a small airport for local flights but it’s turned into a place with different types of planes and increased activity,” the attorney said.

Talk to longtime locals, however, and you’ll hear that a variety of aircraft have used the airport for decades. The airport has been here for well over a half century and now it’s hemmed in by Route 1, town roads, commercial and residential property. If large trees on private property have to go for reasons of safety so be it. RIAC needs to move off its eminent domain stand and negotiate a smaller safety zone with the FAA. Nearby residents need to acknowledge they moved into the airport neighborhood.


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