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NEWPORT STATE AIRPORT TEMPORARY REDUCTIONS TO RUNWAYS FOR PUBLIC SAFETY EXPECTED TO EXCEED 1000 FEET

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RIAC awaiting relief from the courts or legislature to address airspace hazards and restore full runway lengths at Newport and Westerly State Airports

WARWICK, RI – June 19, 2020 – The Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) today announced that preliminary findings of an updated airspace analysis at Newport State Airport may lead to temporary reductions in runway length of 1000 feet or more.  RIAC is now in the process of considering re-design options for one or both runways to mitigate the length of the new runway displacements while still ensuring public safety.  The expected restrictions to runways at Newport State Airport are a result of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements to mitigate hazards to ensure pilots have adequate takeoff and landing clearance and to make certain that pilots have adequate room to avoid collisions with growing trees surrounding the airport.

RIAC had previously announced that initial data from a survey of growing trees in surrounding properties of Newport State Airport would require that runway lengths could be shortened at least 700 feet when announcing efforts to seek passage of S2547 and H7900, also known as the “Preservation of Safe Airspace” bills.  These same issues are present at Westerly State Airport, which serves as an essential lifeline to residents of Block Island, has already seen its runway lengths reduced by more than 900 feet.

The proposed legislation would provide a statewide solution to address airspace obstructions by clarifying state law as consistent with federal law, while improving airspace protection coordination among local, state and federal jurisdictions for publicly owned airports.  RIAC continues to encourage local stakeholders to voice their opinion on these bills. https://www.pvdairport.com/corporate/news/03-03-2020-riac-announces-support-for-s2547-and-h7900-preservation-of-safe-airspace-bills

Under federal law, when obstructions threatening safe airspace are encountered RIAC is required to mitigate issues and follow a FAA prescribed process to enter into negotiations with landowners to find equitable compensation for airspace easements to cut trees and preserve safe airspace.  Although RIAC has been successful in negotiating necessary airspace easements with many property owners in Westerly and Newport, some property owners have filed suit, resulting in more than three years of ongoing litigation resulting in a court ordered injunction that has limited the State’s ability to take action while airspace-obstructing trees have continued to grow.  

The following timeline highlights the history of relevant events and efforts to negotiate airspace easements with surrounding property owners:

Newport State Airport
Avigation Easement and Obstruction Removal Historical Summary

Note: This timeline is intended to be a summary of activities, which have been undertaken with respect to obstructions and avigation easements at the Newport State Airport.  It is not intended to be all encompassing or inclusive of every correspondence or property associated with these efforts.

05/04    RIAC publishes a Request for Proposal for an Obstruction Removal and Lighting Project for on airport obstructions
05/04    NorthEastern Tree Service selected to clear obstructions and install obstruction lights
11/04    Letters sent to property owners informing them of a plan to implement an easement acquisition program
01/05    RIDEM issues an Insignificant Alteration Permit (Wetlands Vegetation Management) for obstruction removal
02/05    RIAC issues a Notice to Proceed to NorthEastern Tree Service to clear and manage on airport obstructions
03/05    RIAC holds a meeting with property owners to inform them of the obstruction management program
04/05    RIAC commences activities to acquire obstruction easements on 22 parcels (FAA grant 02-13)
05/05    RIAC holds a public meeting to discuss obstruction removals and easements in Middletown
07/05    On airport obstruction mitigation completed
09/05    Appraisals were updated for easement acquisitions and preliminary negotiations with property owners were initiated
04/06    Easement acquisition was paused to ensure scope of easement work was in sync with ongoing Master Plan Update results
08/06    RIAC contracts for an aerial survey to prepare an updated Aeronautical Study
08/07    RIAC submits Aeronautical Study Request to FAA
10/07    FAA provides Notice of Determination for the Aeronautical Study (reduces easements from 22 to 8, includes 3 additional obstruction lights)
10/07    RIAC receives Revised Notice of Determination which clarifies obstruction projects are grant eligible
03/08    RIAC requests a grant amendment based on Notice of Determination
03/08    Easement process initiated for 8 properties based on updated Notice of Determination
02/09        Easement offer packages sent to 8 property owners
03/09        FAA notified RIAC that grant 02-13 must be closed out by end of June 2009
06/09    RIAC contracts NorthEastern Tree Service to clear on airport approach end Runway 16
05/09    For the 8 property owners, 3 decline to participate, negotiations initiated with 4 and 1 pending offer was issued
06/09        Close-out package for grant 02-13 was submitted to FAA
10/09    RIAC receives Executed Purchase & Sales Agreements for Avigation Easements for 3 parcels
07/10    FAA issues executed grant (02-18) for Aeronautical Study for Obstruction Removal
2010    Runway 16-34 Pavement Rehabilitation project includes displaced threshold for Runway 34 (250’) and installation of 2 obstruction lights
05/11    RIAC submits an Aeronautical Study Update Request to FAA
08/11    FAA responds to the Aeronautical Study Update and concurs with proposed actions
07/12    FAA executed grant (02-19) to Design Obstruction Removal
03/13    FAA issues RIAC a Renewed Aeronautical Study
04/13    RIAC published and distributed Rhode Island Airport Land Use Compatibility Guide Book to assist municipalities in implementing overlay zones as required per legislation
06/13    Memorandum of Agreement executed between RIDOT & RIAC regarding condemnation process
03/15    Fair market value offers presented to property owners for necessary avigation easements using eminent domain procedure
04/15    Avigation easement condemnations recorded
07/15    FAA executed grant (02-20) for Obstruction Removal
02/16    RIAC received letter from East Main Street property owner challenging authority to remove obstructions
03/16    Legal complaint filed by Plaintiffs to bar RIAC from clearing vegetation at properties with obstructions near Westerly State Airport
03/16    FAA issues RIAC a Renewed Aeronautical Study
04/16    Avigation easement values became final (one year from recorded date)
05/17    Preliminary injunction granted by court regarding clearing vegetation near Westerly State Airport
05/17    RIAC receives letter from East Main Street property owner demanding easement settlement
05/17    RIAC sends letter to FAA requesting night circling minimums be reinstated for Runway 16 approach due to recent obstruction removals and survey
07/17    FAA executed grant (02-21) to Acquire Obstruction Easements
09/17    Letter sent to 2 Winfield Court on the Runway 4 end advising obstructions to airspace are located on property and that RIAC would like to negotiate and acquire an avigation easement
07/18    FAA executed grant (02-22) to Acquire Obstruction Easements
08/18    RIAC sends letter to FAA requesting night circling minimums be reinstated for Runway 34 approach due to recent obstruction removals and survey
09/18    RIAC executed Access Agreement with 391 Forest Avenue for Obstruction Removal
11/18    RIAC executed 2 Access Agreements with 29 Lockwood Lane and 28 Lockwood Lane for Obstruction Removal
01/19    Appraisal complete for 2 Winfield Court and offer presented
04/19    RIAC offer declined for 2 Winfield Court, and countered with an offer to acquire the entire parcel outright at fair market value plus costs of relocating personal belongings and 2 businesses operating at the property
05/19    Town of Middletown provided RIAC with a rough draft of an overlay zoning document
05/19    RIAC commences Infrastructure Assessment to gather data on the condition of facilities at general aviation airports
06/19    RIAC commences Pavement Management Program to assess condition of landside and airside pavements at general aviation airports
07/19    RIAC commences Airspace Obstruction Study to update data and determine locations of any new obstructions at general aviation airports
09/19    Meeting held at RIAC with Senator DiPalma and Mr. Nick Schorsch with Metropolitan Wealth Management to discuss potential economic development at Newport State Airport and RIAC provided an update on obstruction impediments and potential runway displacement
10/19    Meeting held between RIAC, Leader Shekarchi and City of Newport Councilwoman Kate Leonard, to discuss economic development at Newport State Airport and RIAC provided an update on obstruction impediments and potential runway displacement
11/19    RIAC sends letters to the City of Newport and Town of Middletown introducing the start and intent of the General Aviation Strategic Business Plan and requesting the Town and City join in ongoing litigation to ensure the continued beneficial and safe use of the airport would be protected
11/19    RIAC sends notifications to General Aviation System Tenants and Stakeholders notifying them that RIAC has reached out to town managers, municipal leaders and state representatives to participate in a strategic planning initiative involving
11/19    RIAC was notified by the City of Newport’s Mayor’s office that neither the Mayor nor the City Manager felt that a briefing meeting nor a separate public meeting in the City of Newport was required to discuss the General Aviation Strategic Business Plan
11/19    RIAC and Senator DiPalma held 2 conference calls regarding Strategic Business Plan efforts and continued obstruction challenges
11/19    RIAC met with Shawn Brown (Town Administrator), Warren Hall (Town Engineer) and Ron Wolanski (Town Planner) at the Town of Middletown to introduce General Aviation Strategic Business Plan efforts and discuss obstructions and potential runway displacement
11/19    The Town of Middletown indicates that the overlay zoning submitted to RIAC for review would be taking a different direction and they would provide RIAC new information on the topic soon   
11/19    RIAC holds public meeting in Middletown to introduce General Aviation Strategic Business Plan efforts and discuss obstructions and potential runway displacement
11/19    RIAC discusses and provides information to Newport City Councilwoman Kate Leonard regarding obstruction mitigation and associated litigation at Westerly State Airport.
12/19    RIAC receives new preliminary obstruction data reaffirming the known obstruction along with an additional 26 easements required, 19 of which are on the Runway 4 end
12/19    RIAC reaches out to FAA to see if there are any alternative solutions to retain rights to remove the obstructions to include acquiring the parcel outright (versus avigation easement only) using FAA federal funds
01/20    FAA advises that they continue to look into the full parcel acquisition inquiry, versus avigation easement only, and will need to check with FAA headquarters
01/20    RIAC submits draft Newport Obstruction Action Plan to FAA for review
01/20    Meeting held with Senator DiPalma to discuss draft results of Airspace Obstruction Study for Newport
02/20    RIAC receives notice that property owner at 2 Winfield Court, (where previous avigation easement was rejected), had retained new legal representation
02/20    Senators Sosnowski, McCaffrey, DiPalma, Seveney, and Archambault introduce to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bill S2547, which clarifies language regarding General Laws for Airports and Landing Fields with the intent of preserving safe airspace
02/20    Representatives Serodio and Ranglin-Vassell introduce to the House Corporations, Bill H7900, which clarifies language regarding General Laws for Airports and Landing Fields with the intent of preserving safe airspace
02/20    RIAC receives support letter from the Rhode Island Pilots’ Association supporting the preservation of safe airspace bill
02/20    RIAC receives support letter from Skydive Newport supporting the preservation of safe airspace bill
03/20    RIAC announces support for the preservation of safe airspace bills which will provide a statewide solution addressing airspace obstructions
03/20     FAA advises RIAC that full acquisition of a parcel, in lieu of avigation easement only, for the purposes of obstruction removal is not an eligible cost
03/20    RIAC receives draft reports for the ongoing Infrastructure Assessment and Airside Pavement Management Program projects
03/20    Middletown Town Council passes a resolution in opposition of the preservation of safe airspace bill
03/20    Design of temporary runway threshold displacements commences
06/20    Senator DiPalma and RIAC meet for continued discussions on obstructions at Newport, which included the preliminary design results of temporary threshold displacement, and draft correspondence to homeowners with off airport obstructions requiring avigation easements
06/20    RIAC has not received updated information regarding the status of overlay zoning from the Town of Middletown.
06/20    No response to RIAC’s November 1, 2019 written request has been received from the Town of Middletown or the City of Newport to join with RIAC in ongoing litigation to ensure we protect the continued beneficial and safe use of the runways at Newport State Airport
06/20    RIAC to initiate Phase II of the ongoing General Aviation Strategic Business Plan efforts

The Preservation of Safe Airspace bill is intended to clarify state law as consistent with federal law and help foster good faith negotiations to provide reasonable compensation to neighboring landowners and address local airspace obstructions threatening public safety and continued airport operations. The bill also affirms existing federal definitions of “Approach, approach zone,” and “approaches” as consistent with definitions of airport land and airspace as set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration as stated in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 77 (“Safe, Efficient Use, and Preservation of the Navigable Airspace.

The effect of the bill will be to affirm existing law that “the department of transportation may, with the approval of the governor, and subject to the provisions of chapter 6 of title 37, acquire by purchase or condemnation, any land or any estate or interest in land, including airspace within this state that it may deem necessary for a suitable airport, landing field, or approach” necessary for a suitable airport.  Currently RIAC is in the process of designing alternative runway layouts in the hopes of mitigating the length of the runway displacements at Newport State Airport. Note that both runways at Newport State Airport may experience temporary reductions in length, depending on the selected design.

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation was formed on December 9, 1992 as a semi-autonomous subsidiary of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to operate and maintain the state’s airport system. The powers of the corporation are vested in its seven-member board of directors, all of whom are appointed by the governor.  The Rhode Island Airport Corporation is responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the six state-owned airports; and the supervision of all civil airports, landing areas, navigation facilities, air schools and flying clubs. In addition to T. F. Green Airport, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation is responsible for five general aviation airports throughout the state: Block Island, Newport, North Central, Quonset and Westerly. For more information visit RIAC at https://www.pvdairport.com/
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