With the backdrop of piles of PVC pipes, crushed concrete and other material near the Pawtuxet River, Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) announced Tuesday a package of …
With the backdrop of piles of PVC pipes, crushed concrete and other material near the Pawtuxet River, Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) announced Tuesday a package of legislation to increase environmental protections around rivers and identify public rights-of-way and water access in the state.
McNamara said he has “been inspired by what our community has endured” to a cluster of reporters and a far bigger group of area residents, many of them holding handmade signs in support of preserving access to the Pawtuxet. Over the last eight months, McNamara has joined those seeking to preserve and restore 175 Post Road, the 15-acre site that was once home to a valve manufacturing plant.
McNamara was joined by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Matthew L. LaMountain (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), who will sponsor companion legislation in the Senate, and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who cosponsored McNamara’s legislation in the House.
The legislative package goes beyond 175 Post Road, where land owners Lee Beausoleil of Beausoleil Asphalt & Sons and Artak Avagyan of A-Star Oil have sought master plan approval to build two buildings with a total of 65,000 square feet as rental space for contractors to store equipment and materials, that prompted the measures.
The development plan came before the Planning Board at a lengthy hearing Jan. 11 attended by more than 100 objectors many of whom, including McNamara, called for denial of the application largely based on the argument the property is subject to flooding and that the area should be protected.
The land, the site of the Hammel Dahl manufacturing plant, is zoned light industrial that allows for the proposed development. The Planning Department proposed preserving much of the land that encompasses a river walking trail as open space and granting the rental storage buildings. Neither the owners nor the opponents looked favorably on the proposal.
Tuesday’s press conference focused on the larger picture of substantial gains in restoring the river environment and river access with the a few disparaging remarks about the site owners who McNamara called “unethical developers” for blocking off the river trail that the public has accessed for the past three decades. McNamara painted a picture of a “flotilla of plastic waste’ that would contaminate the river and eventually Narragansett Bay should it be washed away by a flooded Pawtuxet River.
Responsibility to protect ecosystem
Senator Josh Miller termed developments both a concern and a celebration. He noted that as a result of numerous efforts, including the system to manage Providence storm water, we have a cleaner bay and a thriving ecosystem. He said we are seeing the return of a “full ecosystem in the Pawtuxet River” and that it is the community’s responsibility to protect that ecosystem.
As for the status of the proposal to develop the site, the Warwick Planning Board continued its Jan. 11 hearing after listening to the testimony of the developers and the opposition. Board Chair Philip Slocum said he wanted to afford board members the opportunity to ask question and with an 11:15 p.m. deadline to vacate Veterans Memorial Middle School auditorium, there wasn’t the time. The hearing was continued to Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. in the community room of the Sawtooth City Hall Annex in Apponaug.
In an attempt to torpedo the 175 Post Road proposal last fall, McNamara called on the Department of Environmental Management to find the PVC pipes and other material on the site as hazardous waste, forcing the owners to dispose of it. DEM agreed with the owners that the pipes are being stored and are not waste.
A release issued by the State House says McNamara asked DEM and the Environmental Protection Agency last year to work together to develop plans to address more frequent flooding of the Pawtuxet River and ways to quickly inform residents of the discovery of soil contaminants.
Of particular concern is an area in Cranston on the banks of the Pawtuxet River that housed the Ciba-Geigy Chemical Company from 1954 to 1986, and is now the subject of an EPA corrective action plan under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Concerns over flooding and contaminants
During the 2010 flooding of the Pawtuxet River, adjacent neighborhoods in both Warwick and Cranston were flooded. When the river receded, varying depths of sediment emitting noxious odors were left on neighborhood properties, prompting the Rhode Island Department of Health to recommend wearing N95 masks when removing or shoveling the substance. At the time, McNamara purchased two cases of the masks to hand out to residents in the affected neighborhoods.
This first bill (2023-H 5087) would require the Department of Environmental management to develop a plan for flooding on the Pawtuxet River, specifically at the site of the former Ciba-Geigy, with regard to contaminants leaching into the Pawtuxet River and neighboring wells.
“More frequent flooding due to climate change will have a contributing effect on the threat that this site poses to human health and the environment,” said McNamara. “The 2010 flood was described as a ‘100-year flood.’ Last year, 15 inches of rain fell in a few hours, flooding and closing Interstate 95 in Providence. If this storm had occurred two miles southwest, it would have led to a major flooding event as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. My concern is that the PCBs and other toxic chemicals that are currently sequestered and capped will permeate the sand and wells located at this site and migrate into the river and its sediment,” he said in the release.
The plan would include notifying the public of the results of any testing that is done on the site, notifying the community if ground water contaminants are detected leaking into the Pawtuxet River, addressing the remediation of contaminants detected in sediment on residential and business properties that minimize the risk to human health and the environment and using weather models that factor in projected increases in flooding events based upon updated climate data.
The second bill (2023-H 5088) would amend the definition of solid waste to include PVC pipe (polyvinyl chloride resin) that is abandoned, discarded, left lying on the ground or not stored in a covered facility.
Guaranteeing water access, trails
And the third bill (2023-H 5116) would permit the director of the Department of Environmental Management to recognize and identify public rights-of-way to shoreline and water access over land owned by a private party.
“This legislation is designed to protect pathways and trails that have been historically used as access to waterways by the public,” said McNamara. “It would give the director authority, based on several criteria spelled out in the legislation, to designate rights-of-way to our navigable rivers.”
At the press conference, McNamara said he was told by a law school professor that 20 states have similar legislation and he believes Rhode Island should, too.
Asked by village resident Roy Evans if the package of bills could stop the proposed development of 175 Post Road, McNamara pointed out they would first need to be enacted, adding that should that happen they would be instrumental in controlling what happens to the property.
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