RIAC planning parking program at Block Island and Westerly airports

Corrected at 5:46 p.m. May 22

R.I. AIRPORT CORPORATION is planning a fee-based parking program for the Block Island State Airport and Westerly State Airport, which would begin this summer season. / COURTESY HENRY DUPONT

NEW SHOREHAM The R.I. Airport Corp. plans on unveiling a mobile app-based parking system at the Block Island State Airport and Westerly State Airport this summer season. Parking has been free at both of the airports for 50 years.

“The state was hoping this would blow by and no one would notice it,” said Henry duPont, chair of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders Group.

DuPont said RIAC intends to charge $10 per day for parking at both airports. He noted that parking would be gratis for the first three hours, for a parking program that would be managed by the Passport Parking app.

Signage at the airports would provide instructions for downloading the app, requiring personal information, such as a credit card number.

- Advertisement -

DuPont said over due payments would be enforced by affixing a plastic sunshield shaped device called “The Barnacle” to a vehicle’s windshield that would be released when the fee is paid. The mobile app can track a vehicle’s movement, so it can monitor duration of stay.

According to duPont, the Block Island State Airport has 120 parking spaces, so RIAC’s parking program would generate about $35,000 per month in revenue for the state.

RIAC would receive 80% of the revenue, while its third party operator, Flight Level, would garner 20% of the gate. Flight Level manages the day-to-day operations of the airport.

DuPont said that RIAC has been deflecting scrutiny by claiming the parking plan was devised by Flight Level. “That’s not true,” said duPont, who noted that the stakeholders have no objections to long-term parking passes at the state’s general aviation airports.

“That’s fair,” he said. “But if you want to discriminate against Block Island and Westerly we are going to fight it.”

Lois Bendokas, who has owned and operated New England Airlines, along with her husband, Bill, since 1970, said the parking plan would impact the company’s bottom line.

“It’s a horrible decision. It’s sad RIAC is taking such a poor business position on this,” she said. “It’s going to effect our bottom line. And it’s going to effect our passenger’s bottom line. It’s mindboggling.”

Bendokas added, “They’re saying it’s Flight Level’s decision to do this. It’s not. It’s RIAC’s decision.”

Bendokas said the airline caters to 32,000 passengers annually, not only tourists, but a workforce of laborers and professionals. She also said the airline spends money each year on its marketing and promotional material, which state that parking is free.

Bendkoas said there has been free parking at the Westerly State Airport for as long as she can remember. “We have been here 50 years, and it’s been free,” she said.

Bendokas said RIAC only seems to care about T.F. Green Airport, when they are tasked with fostering all of the state’s aviation facilities.

“I want to see them change their minds about this,” said Bendokas. “I want to see them wake up and see what they are going to lose.”

Bendokas said it is a bad time for fees when businesses are trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic recession.

“We need a positive face,” she said. “For RIAC to be putting out such a negative face to the traveling public – it’s very sad. We fly a lot of people through here.”

DuPont said that prior to implementation RIAC is required to advertise its plans for the parking program with a formal Notice of Intended Rulemaking, which involves a public comment period, and public hearings, or they would be in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

“RIAC is trying to get around the APA by claiming that it’s Flight Level’s plan,” said duPont. “They are hoping to roll this parking plan out without going through the APA.”

New Shoreham Town Manager Maryanne Crawford declined to comment about RIAC’s plans, stating that she needed more information about the agency’s parking proposal.

RIAC did not immediately respond with comment regarding its parking plan for the airports.

RIAC has come under fire from Block Island and Westerly groups over the years due to various issues, including displacing runway thresholds, and its policies for staffing, and maintaining its facilities.

(CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Gov. Daniel J. McKee is responsible for appointing RIAC’s CEO. The agency’s current CEO and president, Iftikhar Ahmad, was appointed by its board of directors in 2016.)

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.

No posts to display