100 people attend north-enders' landfill presentation
Signaling for a new era of cooperation and finding of a suitable site for the town garage were among elements of the public forum conducted Sunday by the North End Concerned Citizens. Held at the Portuguese American Citizens' Club, more than 100 people attended the session, which was serious and civil.
The NECC is seen as the town's most persistent nemesis of the former landfill on North Main Road. Current plans call for its closure under the supervision of the state Department of Environmental Management. The town is then planning to build a new highway barn on the sight. Some officials on both sides talked of no longer being enemies. The public embracing was signaled by a flag of truce introduced by first-term Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski.
"The town government is not your enemy. At least three of us are here. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser is here. I understand your anger, but there is no reason we cannot work together. We must talk, not accuse or fight." She and others were reacting to news a few days earlier that private water wells in the landfill area were found to be polluted. Attendees included state Rep. Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown), who is working with Sen. Teresa Pavia-Weed (DJamestown, Newport) on state legislation to help residents here and elsewhere who have groundwater problems.
Even Norma Willis, a NECC leader who is talking about possibly taking legal action against the town, credited Keiser with talking with her about her well results. "I am so appreciative of Bruce (Keiser) calling and all he is doing. We all are so glad you're here. It is so nice to have a new sheriff in town."
Keiser responded immediately to receiving reports of the well contaminations by ordering retesting and more elaborate testing procedures as may be needed, and calling each homeowner about the test results. (See related story on page 1.)
Another garage site?
The landfill is not the only possible site for the town public works garage, according to Ellen Winsor, an NECC leader. The NECC led the fight against a barn plan for a lot abutting the landfill several years ago. The citizen group has since worked for more monitoring at the landfill. During the past year, it led debate on use of the landfill itself for the barn, as proposed a year ago.
For at least 25 years, Town officials and residents have agreed that a new highway barn is desperately needed. However, they have not been able to agree where to locate it. The current garage at Fort Wetherill, with its dilapidated building, has been deemed to be too small.
Winsor said that about 2,500 acres, or 40 percent of the island's 6,200 acres are not developed. She said that of the approximately 150 town-owned properties, 30 have at least two acres - the size that town officials and consultants say is needed for the highway barn. She said that some 113 undeveloped private properties have at least two acres.
Winsor acknowledged that dozens of town properties are under an acre, and many of the town and private properties may have elements that make them unlikely for the garage. Then she asked: "Can't we find two acres elsewhere . . . more appropriate, without the risks" that the landfill may pose?
"We want them (public works employees) to have a new place," Winsor said. The landfill represents an issue of inanimate equipment versus health of the people, she noted.
Town committees over the years have publicly discussed about a dozen public and private parcels for the barn and repeatedly discarded those options. Town officials years ago recommended Lot 47, abutting the landfill, but that option was blocked. They next recommended Taylor Point, but that was rejected because voters thought the location was inappropriate and the proposed design too expensive. The town currently is promoting the landfill itself for the garage.
After a two-hour presentation by the NECC legal and engineering consultants, the group's leaders asked those who accept their findings to attend the next Town Council meeting, Monday, March 13, to support the NECC goals of more monitoring at the landfill and placing the new garage elsewhere.