The Green Airport NIMBY runway issue
For years, Rhode Island’s Not-In My Backyard attitudes have hurt economic development in our cozy state. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay takes us to T.F. Green State Airport for the latest.
With Rhode Island mired in a stubborn recession, it’s great to know that some of our leaders are trying to do something to create jobs and build a solid transportation infrastructure for the future.
The plan to extend the runway at Green Airport is just that. This project would pump $166 million into our foundering economy with major construction. Once the project is done, it would establish a template for future economic activity by bringing more jets to our airport.
And it would fit perfectly with the train and automobile hub near the airport and Route 95 that the federal and state governments have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into over the past two decades.
If you don’t think a thriving airport is critical to a state’s economy, we take you to Cincinnati, the longtime home of Chiquita Brands International, the iconic company that is synonymous with bananas. Chiquita is leaving Ohio and taking its headquarters and 400 jobs to Charlotte, North Carolina. A major reason for the move: Charlotte has a better airport with more flights. While daily flights to Cincinnati have dropped from about 600 a few years back to less than 200 today. Charlotte’s airport has added flights and now has about 700 daily flights.
The runway extension could be the fulcrum to bringing new airlines and jet traffic to the airport. This project has the support of just about every political and business leader in the state. The federal government has approved the plan.
Governor Chafee says it is a crucial element in bringing jobs to Rhode Island.
So what’s the hold up? Look no further than the Warwick City Council.
After more than 10 years of federal hearings covering every aspect of the runway extension, the city council in Warwick, home to the airport, is tossing a last-minute monkey wrench into the project.
The council recently voted to hire a California law firm to challenge the Federal Aviation Administration decision giving a green light to the project. Council members assert that some issues, including environmental concerns, were not properly addressed in the process of granting runway extension approval.
This project was the subject of 10 years of hearings and legal challenges. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian opposes the council intervention. He says the city has a scant chance of winning legally and that the council is wasting money on lawyers.
Green Airport has been an economic generator for Rhode Island since the early 1990s, when then-Governor Bruce Sundlun led a big, costly upgrade of the aging airport.
Now, Governor Chafee and Dr. Kathleen Hittner, chairwoman of the airport corporation, have been aggressively courting new airlines and related businesses. Hittner and Chafee met with top executives of Jet Blue in hopes of luring the discount airline to Green.
But no new airlines are coming to an airport where the runways aren’t long enough to accommodate big jets.
The land around the airport is ripe for job-generating economic development that could also add to Warwick’s commercial tax rolls and stabilize property taxes for home owners, says Chafee.
In a global economy, it is obvious that having a strong transportation network is an economic advantage. It would be nice if the Warwick City Council could shed its NIMBYISM and wake up to the fact that there are jobs at the end of that runway.
Scott MacKay’s political commentary runs every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:40 and 7:40. You can also follow his commentary and political reporting at RIPR’s `On Politics’ blog.