2006-02-09 / News

Workshop on highway barn runs over three hours

By Dotti Farrington

Two leading town businessmen were among residents who raised concerns last week about the possible pollution of private water wells by the proposed placement of the town highway barn at the former town landfill on upper North Main Road.

They were Richard Eannarino of East Shore Road, a businessman who built the Jamestown Place condos in the downtown area, and William Munger, owner and operator of Conanicut Marine Services.

Eannarino drew the only applause at the Town Council’s Feb. 1 threeand-a-half-hour workshop on the landfill closure when he urged town officials to put the Public Works Department highway barn “at a clean place” and not as part of the closed landfill.

“Why even take the risk?” he asked as one of the last of 21 speakers to express concern about the potential for well-water pollution from the proposed stirring up of decaying waste to build a much-needed town garage there.

The comments of the evening were divided between the former landfill and the various aspects of the proposed new highway barn at the landfill. Town have been trying to get taxpayer approval for the garage for more than 20 years. Voters first vetoed Lot 47, which abuts the landfill on the east, for the garage because of concerns about landfill-related pollution. They then voted down a more than $2 million garage at Taylor Point because of location and/or price.

The landfill closure plans were underway last winter when then Town Administrator Mark Haddad and Deputy Public Works Director Michael Gray proposed that the garage be sited on the western end of the landfill. That proposal brought renewed protests from the North End Concerned Citizens. The group’s actions led the state Department of Environmental Management to give additional study to the town’s plans.

DEM Supervising Engineer Laurie Grandchamp said the night’s workshop was not required, but was arranged by state and local officials because of the persistent concerns of townspeople.

“No problem, either way”

Michael Powers, senior principal for GZA GeoEnvironmental, engineering consultants to the town on the landfill and barn plans, tried to assure residents at the workshop that any pollution that exists at the landfill is nominal and not threatening. He also said that any pollution that exists is no more and no less a factor regardless of the garage being placed there.

Powers repeated his assurance effort when another resident rephrased the concern: “Which is least likely to contaminate the aquifer of the island?” Powers said, “There is no distinction. If the landfill is properly closed, any potential problems will be mitigated.”

Grandchamp said she agreed with Powers’ position and the state is confident in the GZA plans. She pointed out that federal and state environmental authorities encourage reuse of closed landfills “as long as they are done properly.” A person in the audience called out, “So you’ve already made up your mind.” Long ruled the speaker out of order. “No shouting out,” he said.

Edward Summerly, GZA associate principal, said that the excavation and other proposed landfill disturbances for the highway barn will give officials more information about the contents of the waste. The added data would help them be able to plan to make the landfill safer.

Digging up trash

According to the consultants, 10,000 cubic yards, about 12,000 tons or about 500 truckloads, of decaying trash will be excavated and screened to determine whether or not it needs to be removed to a landfill approved for such materials. Material deemed safe will be used to backfill and cover the in landfill closure here.

The plan also calls for water to be piped, by tunneling through a main part of the upper landfill, to the garage. More than one speaker expressed concern about that plan, including the lack of a backup plan in case the pipe breaks within the area decaying trash. The consultants said the pipe within the trash area would be doubled-lined and be most unlikely to be problematic.

Eannarino began his comments by identifying himself as the vice chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. That role made him particularly aware of the impact of truck traffic on roadways, he said. Eannarino asked officials to calculate and tell taxpayers the costs of maintaining and repairing proposed roads within the landfill for the public works trucks and equipment. He asked them to compare that cost with the cost to “site the garage on clean land.” Eannarino said the town owns several parcels that could were big enough, about two acres, to use for the garage.

He also cited several examples of landfills where outcomes have been costly in terms of disease and death, and not only money.

Munger’s concerns

Munger voiced concerns about excavating the trash. “Our leadership is aware of a lot of nasty stuff buried there. Going to the dump was the highlight of the week in those days. We witnessed everything going there, before recycling,” he said. After listing the sources of mercury and lead and other contaminants, he said “some of those containers have not rusted through yet,” suggesting it may be years before poisons leach through and affect the water supplies not only of nearby private wells, but also the municipal water supply.

“How can gain (siting the garage there) outweigh the risks?” he asked.

Powers said “The risks exist whether you cap the landfill and do nothing else, or whether you add the garage. Adding the garage will not make it worse.” He continued, “We have not encountered the volumes you describe. There are perceived risks. The actions being planned are appropriate.”

Munger asked, “When the first well is polluted, will the defense be that the barn had nothing to do with it?”

Powers replied, “The risk is with the landfill, not the garage.”

Munger suggested that not disturbing the landfill was a better position than adding the garage. “If it is disturbed, we have no defense,” he said.

Powers repeated, “You cannot link concerns with the barn. The risks are posed by the landfill itself.” He added, “There is no evidence to expect future problems. We are taking action to mitigate risks. I am not getting the connection of the garage with increased risks.”

Other concerns

Among others speakers concerned about the highway barn impacts was Norma Willis, a leader of the North End Concerned Citizens, who asked why GZA did not plan to pave all the roadways at the site, as DEM had directed. Summerly said such paving would produce more run-off than could be redirected, even with all the retaining ponds being planned. The roads may have to be paved later, if the gravel plan turns out to be ineffective.

Ray Iannetta, another leader of the concerned citizens group, said the DEM encouragement of other uses for closed landfills is intended for those with access to municipal water supplies. He and other residents pointed out that the north end residents are on private wells, and the town does not have enough water for existing municipal water customers and could not provide water if the wells become polluted.

Phil Willis, another north end resident and Norma Willis’ husband, reported when his well needed to be evaluated, 152 elements were tested. He asked why GZA tests only for 62. Summerly said the original tests covered 147 elements, and GZA determined it needed to do repeated rounds for only 62.

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