RIAC has a parking problem - or so it says
Parking at the Block Island Airport has caused quite a stir – so much so that the subject was included in the R.I. Senate Committee on Rules, Government Ethics and Oversight meeting with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation on Monday, May 24.
The Block Island Times first learned that a paid parking plan was being proposed and would be instituted this summer from Lois Bendokas, co-owner of New England Airlines, a few weeks ago. At the time, her concern was primarily focused on the amount and timing of the advertising for the airline – advertising that features the enticement of free parking in both Westerly and Block Island and that had already been printed in numerous publications, including those put out by The Times.
The paid parking plan has been put off for now but will most likely be implemented at a later date.
Subsequently, a letter to the editor in The Times from Henry du Pont on the same subject also got a lot of attention. Then came two articles in the Providence Business News written by former BI Times reporter Cassius Shuman.
Concerned residents then contacted Representative Blake Filippi and Senator Susan Sosnowski, who spoke on islanders’ behalf during the Senate committee’s meeting.
PBN’s first article included statements from both Bendokas and du Pont that captured RIAC’s attention. They objected to the article and asked for a rebuttal, which PBN published the next day. During the Senate hearing RIAC officials said the first PBN article was misleading, and contained lies.
The Senate meeting was not solely focused on Block Island and Westerly, but on activities across all the airports.
RIAC officials started out with a Power Point presentation and explained how cost-friendly they are to the aviation community. They said Rhode Island is unique in not having a state aviation fuel tax, and that the fuel flowage fee was lower than neighboring states, as are aircraft registration fees.
You can’t give everything away for free and expect to balance the books,though. As Senator Louis DiPalma, chair of the committee said: “You have a left side of the equation versus a right side of the equation.”
RIAC’s stated purpose in charging for parking is to balance that equation. They don’t feel that the five general aviation airports, which they say operate at a loss, should be subsidized from profits realized at T.F. Green. Their numbers allege a deficiency across the five general aviation airports of $2,435,900, although $2,208,600, or 91 percent, comes from an indirect payroll expense, not associated with any particular airport, and another unallocated outflow is for $250,000 of capital costs.
Regardless, of the five GA air ports, Block Island appears to have the largest operating deficit, at just over $500,000 while Quonset has an excess of $775,100. When the indirect payroll expense and capital costs are subtracted from the calculation, the five airports, together, have a total positive income of $22,700.
There is one line item in particular that is out of line with the rest of the airports, that of “operating expense,” which totals $359,800 for Block Island, an amount higher than each of the other airports. When The Times asked RIAC CFO Brian Schattle why that number was so high, he indicated that it was because of the Fixed Base Operator, which is Flight Level Aviation, a company based in Massachusetts that serves as the FBO for all of the RI general aviation airports.
(The Times did ask for additional, detailed information about what makes up all of the revenues and expenses listed, but did not receive a response in time for publication.)
Peter Eichley, CEO of Flight Level, during the Senate meeting, stated that other airports in the region do charge for parking, but gave no examples, and he did not respond to an email from The Times asking about parking practices at the airports his
company manages in other states.
Connecticut, like Rhode Island, has a main airport and five smaller “general aviation” ones, including Hartford Brainard, Danielson, Groton-New London, Waterbury-Oxford, and Windham airports. These are operated by the Connecticut Airport
Authority. “At those airports parking is free for our tenant partners and the general public. Tenant parking is gated parking. Public parking is open and accessible as directed by the respective airport signage,” wrote Alisa Sisic, public information officer for the CAA, in an email to The Times.
Airports on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard do charge for parking. At both airports, the first three hours are free, but the next five hours (up to eight hours total) costs $12. From October through April, parking is essentially $15 per day, and from May through September, it is $20 per day.
Both airports also have longer-term parking plans at various rates that cover several scenarios. At Nantucket the fee for annual parking is $1,500. On Martha’s Vineyard, commercial vehicles registered at an island address pay $750 per year, and non-island, but Massachusetts-registered commercial vehicles pay $1,950. Non-commercial vehicle fees also vary depending on where the vehicle is registered.
During the Senate hearing, RIAC officials attempted to assert that they were actually proposing the collection of parking fees so that the parking area could be cleaned up of abandoned vehicles and that this was somehow to help out, or at the request of, the town.
Although it may be hard to tell the difference between an abandoned car and an “island car,” when The Times went through the parking lot on Friday, May 28, all the vehicles appeared to have license plates, and only one appeared to be truly abandoned. That was a pick-up truck with Virginia plates, four flat tires, and a rolling suitcase in the bed.
Since most of the parking areas are unpaved, they are subject to the heaving and settling of the ground that can leave them
uneven and rough looking. There have been attempts to increase parking by roping off an additional area for vehicles, even though signs remain telling visitors not to park on the grass.
There is also clear evidence that there was once some type of paid parking program, again in the form of signage, although in one case, enforcement language has been crossed out with spray paint.
Bendokas, in prepared testimony for the Senate meeting, pointed out that: “The parking area itself is unpaved, unfenced, unlit, and unmanned or secured. It is assumed that when one pays for a service, one actually receives a service.”
Meantime, RIAC has another plan for raising revenues at the Block Island Airport. They have listed 11.4 acres at the airport as available for long-term lease with the broker Cushman & Wakefield Hayes & Sherry. There are four separate areas available, three for aeronautical purposes, and one for non-aeronautical purposes. The latter is the recently cleared 4.75 acre lot across the road from the airport. Potential uses, accorded to the listing include outdoor storage, office space and “green energy initiatives.”