Proposal to resolve dispute between Warwick and T.F. Green officials is now grounded

THE CITY of Warwick is unwilling to move forward with a tentative agreement to resolve a dispute with Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport over a sound wall and diverting trucks away from city streets — two sticking points that led Warwick officials to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration last summer. / COURTESY R.I. AIRPORT CORP.

A good relationship requires communication. It’s something Warwick officials feel has not been coming from the board or quasi-public agency that oversees Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport.

“Their president refuses to sit with us in a room,” Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi told Rhode Island Current Tuesday. “We’re willing to sit down with him anytime.”

But the city is unwilling to move forward with a tentative agreement to resolve a dispute over a sound wall and diverting trucks away from city streets — two sticking points that led Warwick officials to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration last summer.

The R.I Airport Corp. agreed to both measures in a memorandum of understanding sent to Picozzi’s office on Jan. 2. Picozzi said he was initially pleased with the proposal, but soured again after seeing that RIAC would only restrict FedEx and UPS tractor trailers from going on city roads — not delivery vans.

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“And that’s what I’m looking to avoid — another traffic nightmare,” he said. “We already have enough gridlock.”

After RIAC’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the agreement at its Jan. 11 meeting, the Warwick City Council was initially expected to vote on it at its meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 17. But the MOU is not listed on the agenda.

“The mayor does not want to sign it, so there is no action needed by the council,” City Council President Steve McAllister said in an email Tuesday.

Warwick could get especially backed up, as Picozzi said FedEx plans to have its delivery trucks use local roads upon leaving T.F. Green. A FedEx spokesperson declined to comment on the route its trucks will take from the airport.

“As a matter of practice, we do not publicly discuss specifics of a project until all aspects have been finalized,” FedEx spokesperson Shannon Davis said in an email Tuesday night.

RIAC spokesperson John Goodman accused Picozzi of “once again attempting to move the goalposts.”

“From RIAC’s standpoint this matter is concluded,” Goodman said. “Design work and pre-construction activities related to the cargo facility will continue to move forward.”

Warwick’s federal lawsuit will remain ongoing, Picozzi said.

The disagreement between the city and RIAC continues even as a lawmaker is trying to help ease tension between the two.

Rep. Joseph McNamara, a Warwick Democrat, introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would make one of the seven members of the R.I. Airport Corp.’s Board of Directors an appointee of the Warwick mayor.

No one on the board at present is from Warwick. All members of the board are appointed by the governor for staggered four-year terms.

“I always tell people you don’t drive through Warwick, you drive around the airport,” McNamara said in an interview Friday. “It’s located precisely in the middle of the city, so it’s extremely important that our partnership with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation be one that all sides are heard on.”

McNamara said his push to get a local representative on the board is a direct result of the tension over the cargo project.

“It highlighted the need for the city to protect neighborhoods,” McNamara said.

Under McNamara’s bill, the Warwick designee would replace one of the current directors up for reappointment this year. Three board members have terms set to expire in June: Jonathan Roberts and Jeffrey Bogosian, both of whom were appointed in 2020, and Board Secretary Christopher Little, who was appointed in 2015.

Picozzi did not have any names in mind if McNamara’s bill became law, saying his intention is to conduct a search process to find who he thinks is most qualified to be Warwick’s RIAC representative.

“I don’t go by political parties,” said Picozzi, an independent. “No one should have any influence on them.”

RIAC declined to comment on McNamara’s bill.

Warwick’s mayor did have the power to make appointments to RIAC’s board of directors as recently as 2011, but the state that year passed legislation designating all board members were to be nominated by the governor.

“I think the last one that made an appointment was Scott Avedisian when Lincoln Chaffee was governor,” Picozzi recalled.

McNamara’s bill is co-sponsored by all six of Warwick’s State House representatives, including Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.

“I support the concept of the legislation, but there is still some work that needs to be done,” Shekarchi said in a statement. “Like all bills that impact local communities, there will need to be a City Council resolution in support of this legislation.”

No word yet from governor
McNamara said he has not spoken yet with RIAC officials on his proposal. He did run the idea by Gov. Dan McKee, who McNamara said was noncommittal about support for the bill.

“He still had to run it by his staff, but he understood the need for it,” McNamara recalled.

Olivia DaRocha, a McKee spokesperson, declined to say Friday what the governor’s official stance is.

“It’s way too early in the legislative process but what I can tell you is that the governor will review all bills that come to his desk,” she said in an email.

Christopher Shea is a writer for the Rhode Island Current.

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