2006-07-20 / Front Page

Island reaction mixed to DEM landfill report

By Dotti Farrington

Local reaction came as expected to the state Department of Environmental Management's report on the town's landfill closure plan and the construction of a town highway barn at that site.

The only point of unanimous agreement is that the DEM requirements to site the barn at former landfill will make the project expensive. Just how expensive is being determined by town officials, who are expected to present their findings to the Town Council on Aug. 14.

Town officials in 2004 proposed locating the highway barn at the landfill with the expectation that there would be little cost for site preparation. The town identified the need for a new town highway barn about 25 years ago, but islanders have disagreed on where the garage should be located.

One town councilor, William Kelly, a veteran in the waste management field, said he was "furious about the expense the opponents already have caused the town, and furious that they would think they plan further opposition."

State findings

The DEM said early this month that it approved the town's 50-percent-complete plans for the landfill closure, and that it had no authority over the town's plan to build a highway barn there, as long as construction of any facility met several conditions related to ground water on the site.

The approvals with multiple conditions were spelled out in a five-page statement. The DEM ruling was accompanied by a volume of several hundred pages, which included letters from island residents both for and against the proposed landfill projects and the regulatory agency's replies to them. That volume is available in full at the town's Web page: www.jamestownri.net

The critics

Ellen Winsor, a leader of the North End Concerned Citizens, which opposes the project, questioned the accuracy of the July 13 Press headline: "DEM approves landfill site for highway barn." She pointed out, as reported in the story, that the state "does not have the regulatory power to veto... nor to approve the highway barn on the landfill." She said the state could only apply and interpret regulations. She added, "The headline read to the contrary, further adding to an already infinitely complicated issue."

A primary opponent, Norma Willis, a former town and stateelected official, was not available for comment because of a family matter, a new grandchild. Her husband Philip Willis, also an NECC leader, said he had not finished reading the DEM documents and would 'wait and see" about responses and actions. He said he continues to oppose the garage site at the landfill, which is across the street from the Willises home.

Ray Iannetta, another opponent and neighbor of the former landfill, said he thought the state report and responses to residents showed that DEM officials "tried to be balanced, and they did provide a lot of information and insight." He suggested the DEM conditions for both the landfill closure and for the possible town garage were "helpful and extensive, although more expensive."

Iannetta said the DEM supported some of the town's positions and some of the opponents contentions. He said the report seems to still leave some openings for opposition efforts. He focused on debate about the last time the site was used for disposal of landfill material. The date affects whether 1987 regulations or the more stringent 1991 regulations for closing the landfill and building the barn are followed.

He predicted, "It will be a long time before a barn is built."

Town viewpoints

Town officials hailed the state report as extensive and objective. They pledged support for the closure and the garage at the landfill site if the costs to meet state conditions are not prohibitive.

"We have to assess the cost implications. If it would be more than Taylor Point, it would not make sense," Council Vice President Julio DiGiando said of the DEM report. A few years ago, a proposal to build a garage at Taylor Point was rejected by voters because of its $2.4 million price tag and its location.

"It's about cost. There are no other issues remaining. We will follow the same process (for Taylor Point). We are costing it out," DiGiando said.

Town Councilman Michael Schnack, as well as Kelly, used the findings of the report to criticize those who challenged the methods of landfill closure and the suitability of the garage at the landfill site because they feared the work might pollute their private water wells in the landfill area.

Schnack said that the DEM "did a good job, especially with the nature of the allegations. We have to decide to go or not. Is it economically feasible? It already went to the voters who approved money for the investigation. The state report is part of the process. The barn could be defeated because of costs, but the state dispelled a lot of myths and brought it to a reasonable level."

Schnack said there were a lot of misinformation and scare alarms distributed by the NECC. He called the DEM work "a major report. We are all concerned if there is something (environmentally dangerous), and it has not been productive to keep telling lies, using fear-mongering and mischaracterizing it." He said the state report left nothing else to be concerned about except costs.

He said that although Jamestown was once on a list of potential "superfund" sites but was later removed. The former landfill was never found to be a hazardous site, he and the DEM emphasized. He said the DEM also dispelled notions that Block Island might be a model landfill closure.

"We're actually the model site . . . as the most benign the state is overseeing," Schnack said.

Councilman Kelly also said that he found the DEM landfill report "to be to be very straightforward and to the point. I have read many (federal and state) government reports, and this report is one of the most succinct documents I have seen originate out of any government agency."

Kelly criticized opponents of the projects who compare the notorious Love Canal hazardous waste site to the Jamestown landfill.

Kelly charged the NECC with asking North Kingstown to deny emergency water to Jamestown as a possible part of their goal to get the island a sole aquifer designation.

He said DEM reported that the NECC's Web site had inaccurate information and "is being used to instill fear rather than to provide factual and rational information."

Drawing on his career experience, Kelly concluded that "as a resident near the landfill, I would be demanding (the town) cap the landfill immediately with pavement or concrete to control and eliminate the possibility of leachate contamination."

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser characterized the report as a "very good, objective and independent stand. He said that the town could proceed with the closure itself, and then move to determine if the garage is financially feasible, or the town might find there would be a savings to act simultaneously on the closure and garage.

Keiser said he and the town's consultant, GZA GeoEnvironmental of Providence and Norwood, Mass., are working on cost estimates. They expect to have them done in early to midAugust, he said.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski cited her long-standing opposition to a highway barn at the landfill, and said she was drafting a statement about her position but did not submit one in time for this story.

Council President David Long was not available for comment.

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