Jun. 9--WARWICK -- Describing last week's informational meeting concerning the proposed expansion of the main runway at T.F. Green Airport as "disastrous," Mayor Scott Avedisian is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to hold another session for the public.
"Most residents just wanted to speak or contact an official to tell them how they were affected," Avedisian said of the Wednesday night meeting that drew more than 400 people to the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza hotel. "Instead, the result was a chaotic scene that had many residents wandering around, standing in crowds four lines deep at the informational boards or simply becoming frustrated and walking out."
Avedisian put is request for another meeting in writing, sending a letter late last week to the FAA.
The FAA had scheduled the public session to update residents on its recent decision to support a proposal that would expand Green's runway to the south -- choosing that option over previous ones that would have stretched out the landing strip toward the northeast.
The FAA, which has the ultimate say on the airport expansion, has held a number of public meetings in the city over the past decade as proposals for a longer runway at Green have changed numerous times only to stall at different points in the lengthy application process.
Departing from past practice of a formal presentation followed by questions from the audience, last week's meeting was more of an informal do-it-yourself arrangement. The crowd was never assembled in one place, but instead was expected to use maps, aerial photos and detailed instructions mounted on easels to figure out what section of the ballroom they should go to.
Once there, they were supposed to seek out FAA officials who were mingling in the crowd or write down their comments and leave them in cardboard boxes.
The only informational presentation was a recorded one that was shown repeatedly on a screen in the center of the ballroom.
FAA officials said that the new format was intended to eliminate residents' need to sit through a lengthy presentation and instead give them one-on-one access to FAA officials.
Echoing the sentiments of many residents who walked out last week, shaking their heads, Avedisian said that the intent might have been fine, but many people had trouble deciphering exactly where they were supposed to be and even more had trouble trying to find the appropriate FAA person to talk to. If someone had a question about noise and queried an official whose expertise was safety zones, the person received no help, Avedisian said.
Some opponents of expanding the airport contended that the approach was a deliberate attempt to "divide and conquer the crowd." That assertion was strongly rebutted by Jim Peters, regional spokesman for the FAA.
On Monday, Peters said that the agency had not yet received Avedisian's letter but "when we get (it) we will carefully review it and seriously weigh his request for an additional public information meeting."
Throughout Wednesday night, Avedisian and other local officials who attended found themselves surrounded by residents seeking answers after failing to find the right FAA representative. He said they had to keep reminding people that the meeting was being run by the FAA and the city also has questions it hasn't been able to get answers to.
The roughly $475-million airport expansion project includes more than lengthening the main runway from about 7,100 feet to 8,700 feet, but the runway has been the subject of most of the discussion since it will require taking a small number of homes and businesses and realigning some city roads.
Airport officials have said that the longer runway will not necessarily mean larger planes, but will mean planes carrying more payload to lift off -- whether the weight be from passengers or cargo. In either case, it will make it economically feasible for airlines to run transcontinental flights from Green.
The other part of the project includes expanding and upgrading the safety zones at each end of the airport's crosswinds runway.
Avedisian said that being mayor of the city didn't help him to have a meaningful discussion with anyone from the FAA Wednesday night. He arrived armed with a 60-page report outlining questions and concerns the city still has about the project, but said he was not able to give it to anyone personally because everyone he approached said that they were not designated as a municipal liaison.
"In the end, we just put the report in one of the boxes they put out for people's written remarks," Avedisian said. "I don't think the FAA was purposely trying to thwart anyone, but the evening degenerated into a debacle with a lot of people getting frustrated."