I do not appreciate this airport business becoming a personal attack on those most affected by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation arriving too late to the party. How crass of Lisa Konicki, queen of Economic Development, to flaunt her opinion on the Chamber of Commerce billboard in front of the Chamber of Commerce building: “Advocating compromise on Westerly Airport Runway Displacement.” Am I to understand she got 100 percent support from every Chamber of Commerce member to advocate for compromise before posting her arrogant position on Westerly taxpayer property?
The Airport Corporation ignored the writing on the wall in the 1987 Airport Master Plan, which specified the airport was at capacity. The Airport Corporation failed to secure the Runway Protection Zones and compatible land around the airport for airport operations after it was created in 1992. Residents smartened up and refused to hand their property over to the Airport Corporation in return for an avigation easement that left them with little more than the title to their property. The Airport Corporation then figured it could get properties by turning to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and have them take residential property by eminent domain in the same way it takes private land for roads, bridges, tunnels and so on. For that and other violations, both got slapped with a lawsuit.
The town, by the way, did itself no favor, claiming it had no standing to protect those residents even though it was owner of one of the properties the Airport Corporation took by eminent domain. Stupidity isn’t the Airport Corporation’s alone. Grant Assurance 21, one of the many obligations the Airport Corporation is obligated to adhere to if it expects to receive federal funds, requires that the Airport Corporation inspect the airport twice a year. If it had, two homes located in the Runway Protection Zones would never have needed to be demolished and those owners’ lives so terribly disrupted. These are just the tips of the iceberg that RIAC just ignored. Now we have jet and pilot aviation associations blaming private property owners for not cutting down their trees, while the majority on the Council are praying for them to compromise. No way!
It did not go unnoticed that the Airport Corporation representatives walked out of the special council meeting long before it was over. Couldn’t handle the truth from residents. Don’t kid yourself, the Airport Corporation couldn’t care less about its ‘good neighbor policy’ or the health, safety and welfare of Westerly residents and it appears neither does the council, town manager or Ms. Konicki. No way should the Federal Aviation Administration pay the legal expenses for the Airport Corporation’s stupid mistakes. The Airport Corporation brought this present situation on upon itself.
I take particular exception to those officials who refuse to listen to the facts and ignore their obligation to protect the health, safety, welfare, value of residential properties and the town’s tax base. No way, are we, who had our properties taken by eminent domain, going to become the scapegoats for others’ abominable acts and behavior. No way are we going to compromise. Shame on you Westerly Town Councilors Jean Gagnier, Philip Overton, William Aiello and Edward Morrone. Where in the world are you coming from, pleading with us to compromise as you continually cave to the Airport Corporation’s horrid behavior at our expense? Have you heard nothing from those who have tried, ad nauseum, to educate you? This has been the biggest problem from day one. Or, is it really about a different agenda and the special interests of a few that you have decided to cater to?
Town Manager Derrik Kennedy, you have no business withholding from the residents to this day your May 24 email from the Airport Corporation that contained its “real option of closing the airport.” In fact, you had no business withholding that information from the council on the night of June 28 when Chairman Celico asked you to disclose what it said. The best you could come up with was, “They were just communications between Alan Andrade and myself.” Really! Shame on you! Councilor Overton, who believes you are the rising star in the town, glowered and implied that I was making a big deal out of nothing. That meeting was adjourned with no one ever hearing the truth.
Mr. Manager, you had no business meeting with the Airport Corporation with no consensus from the council. [The Westerly Town Council directed Kennedy to meet with RIAC – editor] You claimed, in your Sept. 8 memorandum that you and director of Development Services Lisa Pellegrini met with the Airport Corporation to ostensibly find out what “the Airport Corporation’s position was for the future of the airport.” You had no business bringing back to the town “the Town Manager’s” assessment of the three options that the Airport Corporation agreed to.” Two of your options were so totally based on advancing economic opportunities for the airport that even the Airport Corporation probably could not have dreamed them up.
Sorry, you’ve made your position very clear but I saw right through that ploy. How very peculiar, Mr. Manager, that when Chairman Celico asked Mr. Andrade if he had communicated with the town regarding the Airport Corporation’s decision to displace the thresholds on Runway 7 and 14, he said, “Yes.” But, when the chairman asked you if the town had received that communication, you said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to look.” What were you doing, protecting Mr. Andrade’s response that really, there was never a letter? Thank you very much Mr. Town Manager!
It has come to this. The town has two choices; one, displace runway 7 and runway 14, or two, close the airport. I can’t believe I’m even considering closure. The 1987 writing on the wall was totally ignored by the Airport Corporation. The town gets not one cent from airport operations on the 440 acres of land that were given to the state. (And, I’m still looking for the document that said the town would get the land back after the war.)
Residents get nothing but headaches, fright from low flying and noisy aircraft and continual threats of takings by eminent domain from the Airport Corporation messengers. No question, the Airport Corporation is the master of shenanigans and doublespeak. As the Federal Aviation Administration’s restrictions become ever more strict, the Airport Corporation will continue its insidious intrusion into private property for its interests that by itself is an illegal expansion of a nonconforming use.
The Town Council has not shown it will, or even can, stand up to the Airport Corporation or consider making it accountable for its many failures. More land grabs, more lawsuits, more shenanigans, more attempts to write an unnecessary local ordinance. Enough is enough. Mystic Jet [a charter business operating from Groton Airport] and the Groton Airport have more than Westerly Airport could ever possibly dream of. The majority of the residents of Westerly would be better off with the airport closed. Just so you know, the Federal Aviation Administration is actually trying to close many of these small airports because they are just too expensive to maintain.
The writer is the chairman of Westerly Residents for Thoughtful Development.