Airport commits to building sound wall to resolve dispute with city of Warwick

A MAP of the planned cargo facility at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport. In green is where a sound barrier will go. Blue arrows indicate where trucks travel. /R.I. AIRPORT CORP. VIA THE RHODE ISLAND CURRENT

After months of demands from Warwick officials, the R.I. Airport Corp. has agreed to cover the $1.9 million cost to create a sound barrier near a planned cargo facility at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport.

Airport officials on Tuesday sent a memorandum of understanding to Mayor Frank Picozzi and the City Council formalizing their commitment to the city for the construction of a $100 million cargo terminal. In the agreement, RIAC promises to build the sound barrier and route all truck traffic through the airport connector.

That settles the two sticking points that led Warwick officials to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration last summer in a quest for legal assurances that RIAC would cover the costs. Picozzi had said a previous agreement had the city on the hook for the cost of building a 1,700 foot long, 15-foot high wall to shield nearby residents from airport noises.

“We were surprised that the mayor wanted an MOU,” RIAC Chief of Staff Britanny Morgan said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ve already committed — but we hope this resolves things.”

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Picozzi could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Pasadena, Calif.-based attorney Steven Taber — who represents Warwick in the federal suit — said he could not provide any comment without first talking with his client.

Picozzi was expected to discuss the agreement as part of a general update on things happening at T.F. Green during the Warwick City Council’s meeting Wednesday night.

City Council President Steven McAllister said in an email he is pleased to see RIAC commit to a sound barrier and diverting traffic.

“Keeping the trucks off Main Ave. and the local roads is my top priority,” he said.

MacAllister stopped short of signaling his support for the MOU, saying he will have the city solicitor review the document before it is officially brought before the City Council for approval on Jan. 17.

“However, I think this is a great step forward in getting this issue resolved while still protecting the residents of Warwick,” McAllister said.

RIAC’s Board of Directors is expected to ratify the MOU at its meeting scheduled for Jan. 11.

The new terminal includes an 85,000 square-foot building that will be used by FedEx and three modular buildings for UPS. The delivery companies currently operate out of a hangar located along Airport Road — a facility that was first erected in 1942.

New structures will be located south of the main passenger terminal, near Strawberry Field Road and includes a portion of long-term Parking Lot E.

The new facility is expected to increase daily air cargo arrivals by one to two flights per day, RIAC spokesperson John Goodman said.

Goodman said trucks would use that part of the lot to get on to the Airport Connector so they don’t get on local roads in Warwick.

Roads near the new terminal consist of residential neighborhoods with no passing lanes. To shield noise from incoming trucks, RIAC will construct a 15-foot high wall along a portion of Strawberry Field Road and Fieldview Drive.

Work is currently underway on grading for the wall by Smithfield-based DiGregorio Corporation, Morgan said.

Goodman said construction is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

“The master planning for this project started in 2016 and has spanned three administrations,” Goodman said in a statement. “We have never wavered in our commitment to build a sound barrier and produce a road mitigation plan that will keep semi-tractor trailers off of local roads.”

Christopher Shea is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.

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