WARWICK, R.I. – Could land beside Narragansett Bay that’s now part of Quonset State Airport become a major port in the construction of offshore wind-turbine farms?
The state wants to find out, and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the Quonset Development Corporation took the first step Friday as the airport corporation’s board unanimously approved an agreement between the two agencies that could ultimately see the closing of the crosswind runway at the airport for the construction of port facilities serving the offshore wind industry.
Spokesmen for both corporations, which are semi-autonomous state agencies, and for Gov. Gina M. Raimondo were short on details Friday as they acknowledge the state has much work to do before the runway could be closed.
A final decision on the runway would rest with the Federal Aviation Administration, which has been loath to abandon airport facilities. Friday’s deal cites an agreement in Santa Monica, California, to close that city’s airport in 2028, ending years of litigation between the FAA and the city. But that action is substantially different than what is contemplated at Quonset: The entire airport will be closed in Santa Monica, while Rhode Island is considering closing Quonset’s secondary runway, which is used during certain weather conditions.
Statistics provided by the airport corporation Friday showed that 40 percent of Quonset’s 9,493 general aviation flights in 2017 used the secondary runway.
(Another 9,704 military flights almost exclusively used the main runway. Quonset is home to the Rhode Island Air National Guard.)
The airport is owned by the R.I. Department of Transportation, which leases it to the airport corporation. If the offshore wind terminal project goes forward, ownership of the land would be transferred to the development corporation.
The three-year agreement approved Friday would not obligate the airport corporation to go along with the development corporation unless certain conditions are met.
— The deal does not create a financial burden for the airport corporation.
— The development corporation evaluates the effect on general aviation at all six state-owned airports, getting input from airport users and businesses.
— The development corporation will cover the cost of any grants the airport corporation has to give back, such as federal money for airport improvements.
— The development corporation will cover the cost of improvements to the main runway, estimated at $20 million.
Rhode Island wind power has been in the news during the last week. First, Raimondo announced that Deepwater Wind, which built a 30-megawatt wind farm off Block Island, had been selected to build a 400-megawatt facility further out to sea. Then, Deepwater and Raimondo announced that the company would invest $40 million in improvements to the Port of Providence, in port facilities in the Quonset Business Park and potentially one or more other Rhode Island ports.
On Friday, Deepwater had nothing to say about the agreement between the airport corporation and the development corporation.
“Deepwater Wind is not familiar with the [agreement] or what it entails, so we’ll have to decline to comment,” spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said in an email.
Raimondo spokesman Josh Block hailed the agreement in a statement: “While the existing facilities and workforce at Providence and Quonset have established themselves in the industry, Rhode Island has an opportunity to realize significantly more economic benefit – and more jobs in wind energy – by exploring better and greater use of land at Quonset.”
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