2006-02-09 / Front Page

Council weighs landfill proposals

By Dotti Farrington

Approximately 110 people attended the Town Council workshop Feb. 1 for the presentation of the landfill closure plans, designated as 50-percent plans.

Council President David Long maintained order with his gavel, and only one burst of applause arose near the end of the three-and-a-half-hour session.

Long cautioned against a free for all, calling for an orderly process to enable a “clearer view of understanding the facts.”

Officials emphasized that Jamestown is the first community in Rhode Island to use the 1991 extension of the federal so-called “superfund” program to have the state Department of Environmental Management supervise the closure of the town’s former landfill. It was noted that the town volunteered to participate in the program in 1998.

At the workshop, the island landfill was described by the DEM as the “most benign” in terms of potential pollution. Some residents minimized that description because it is the state’s first landfill closure. However, the DEM said 24 other closures in various stages of planning are scheduled, so the state has some basis for the “benign” evaluation.

Workshop format

A week before the session, the council president said that few, if any, questions would be allowed because the workshop was intended for town officials to acquire data from their consultants and the DEM. Long said he might allow limited comments or questions from the public at the workshop, but the meeting was intended for officials to be informed about the status of work on the plans for the landfill closure and for the proposed public works highway barn at the landfill site.

Ironically, none of the attending council members — Long, Vice President Julio DiGiando and Councilor Barbara Szepatowski — asked questions after the nearly one hour presentation by representatives of GZA, GeoEnvironmental of Norwood, Mass., consultants to the town for the landfill closure and the proposed highway garage at the landfill.

Long opened the meeting to questions from those who had registered with Fred Pease, the town sergeant at arms, to speak. Thirty-three people signed in, 21 spoke, and a few of the 11 who did not speak, waived their turn, saying their questions had been answered.

Gavel control

The audience groaned when Long first announced that answers would not be given as each question was posed. He relented after four speakers. GZA and the DEM backtracked on the first several questions before taking new ones. Long gaveled the workshop back to order several times when speakers tried to ask follow-up questions or make statements after their original questions were answered.

Well controversy

A testy review evolved about implications of a tainted water well at the former Viera Farm that abuts the landfill site on the south. Michael Powers, senior principal with GZA, originally conducted the tests at the farm several years ago and reported then that pollution was from the landfill. Powers told the workshop that because of changes or redefinitions in groundwater flow patterns, it is not possible to pinpoint the origin of the pollution

Residents called for answers about the implication of not retesting the the well, but Long slammed his gavel and called for order and for respecting everyone present. Steve Jepson, who identified himself as a credit union principal during the original well testing, asked to be recognized out of turn on the topic.

Long declined. The next person due to speak offered to give his turn to Jepson but the council president would not accept it.

Sav Rebecchi of the Jamestown Shores asked questions about the Viera well. His remarks included a reference to former Town Administrator Maryanne Crawford as the one who blocked well retesting. Resident Mary Webster said Rebecchi was incorrect about Crawford’s role. Rebecchi tried to pursue his position. Long gaveled in: “Hold it right there. We’re here to get information. So stop the shenanigans.”

Others continued to focus on the farm. One woman said, “What you (Long) heard is not what I heard.” Sandy Kane, who lives across the road from the prosed barn site, accused GZA of “hedging on the (farm) information, taking such a firm stand then and now with modern technology, you feel it is not correct. I remember the hardships (of the farm well findings).”

Speakers wanted promises about town help, without delays and court battles, if wells become polluted. They also wanted backup plans if the combination closure plan and garage siting created water-well problems.

Some GZA answers

Ed Summerly, GZA associate principal, said ongoing monitoring reports would reveal evolving problems. “There is almost nothing that cannot be done, depending on what you are willing to pay. You are not rolling the dice too much on this one.”

Much of the information he summarized was previously reported. He repeated the three options for closure: no action, deed restrictions only, and comprehensive actions. The consultants recommended and the town previously agreed to do both deed restrictions and comprehensive actions. Over the years, some residents have been arguing that the comprehensive actions are not enough, and many of the workshop questions reflected that position, some with old data recently found and being newly aired to support that position.

Summerly repeated GZA earlier summaries that said the pollutants found during 16 rounds of testing showed excesses “that are not statistically significant.” The Lot 47 well that will be used for water for the highway garage is “potable, that is, meeting drinking water standards,” he said. In recent months, contrary reports, from other sources have circulated.

After some questioning about reports, tests, and findings, Summerly said that residents “are arguing over words, not facts.”

Schedule

Resident Dennis Webster asked about the schedule for closure and was told that the DEM was expecting to act on the current plan within a month, and if approved, the next stage, a 90 percent deesign plan, will be ready for DEM review in May and ready to go out for bid in July. Deadline tomorrow for public comment on landfill site for proposed highway barn

Tomorrow is the deadline for written public comments on the proposed town landfill closure, including its use for a new public works garage. The state Department of Environmental Management must receive the statements by tomorrow, Feb. 10, at 4 p.m. if the comments are to be considered. The comments need to be delivered to:

Chris Walusiak, RI DEM Office of Waste Management, 235 Promenade St. Providence, RI 02908

The comments may be faxed by tomorrow’s deadline to Walusiak at 222-3812.

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