2006-06-22 / News

Council still awaiting DEM decision on landfill closure plan

By Dotti Farrington

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser Monday told the Town Council that he has been assured by state officials that a decision would be given on the proposed landfill closure plan, including the building of a new highway barn, by the end of this week.

Keiser told the council, sitting as water and sewer commissioners, that he had talked directly with W. Michael Sullivan, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, about the pending decision. Keiser had been given tentative dates for receipt of the decision only to have the schedule revised by DEM. "I told them I'm losing my credibility" because of the indefiniteness about when the town would receive a decision on the project, Keiser said at a recent council meeting.

The DEM has had the latest landfill plans by GZA GeoEnvironmental of Norwood, Mass., representing 50 percent of the design work, since winter. The DEM conducted a hearing on the plans in early February, and then received more than 400 letters with arguments for and against the plan.

The landfill has not been operated for about two decades, but the site is now the location of the town's transfer station on North Main Road. The town identified the need for a new highway garage about 25 years ago.

Residents in the landfill area are mainly opposed to the closure plan and contruction of a new garage at the site. They are concerned that toxins in the landfill will be stirred up and possibily contaminate their water, which comes from private wells. Residents elsewhere generally want the garage at the north end of the island because locating garage elsewhere in town failed to get voter approval.

One major delay in the DEM decision process occured when the DEM ordered tests of wells in the landfill area, as requested by the North End Concerned Citizens. The test results showed some pollution in wells of four property owners. Retesting showed acceptable results, and GZA engineering said the original findings represented error in data recording, not major well pollution.

Preliminary reports about the DEM decision have been that a proposed waterline through the former trash heap will not be allowed. The DEM has said landfill debris that may need to be excavated for any construction must be removed from the site, and the floor drains need to be more detailed.

When the retest results were announced, the DEM said it would not have a report for the town until it satisfied itself about well-water concerns, and until it responded to all the letter writers.

Meanwhile, the concerned north enders hired an attorney to argue against the garage at the

landfill location over a possible zoning conflict arising from use of abutting residential Lot 47 as the water supply for the garage. They earlier had hired environmental experts to pursue their concerns.

Jamestown is the first community in Rhode Island to have its landfill closure done under the 1991 delegation of the federal "superfund" program supervised by the DEM. The town volunteered in 1998 for the program.

At a February workshop, the local landfill was described by the DEM as the state's "most benign" in terms of potential pollution. The DEM said 24 other closures out of 200 landfills and contaminated sites in Rhode Island are in various stages of planning for closure.

DEM Chief Sullivan said in March that "we are setting the standards with this one (the Jamestown closure) so it is immensely important to do it right." He also said that "DEM is obligated by law . . . to assess the mission of the town" in overseeing the landfill closure.

Sullivan promised, "We will do a good job and assure safety within all things in our jurisdiction. We do not have a construction prohibition authority, but we can offer direction on technical issues that need to be addressed. We do have the authority to describe what must happen if the Town Council chooses" to build the highway garage.

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