Government

Recycling Business Allowed in East Providence No-Recycling Zone

City officials and company owner say the business "upcycles" used mattresses, even though the company is named Mattress Express Recyclers

Construction debris recycler TLA/Pond View is still open even after the city of East Providence and the state have tried to close it. Now another recycling-like business is operating in Rumford and residents aren’t happy. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Many Rumford residents are fed up with businesses they claim are polluting their neighborhood. Efforts to close TLA/Pond View, a recycler of construction debris, are in a third year and the facility is still operating.

Now another recycling business has residents fuming. This time the operation processes old mattresses, but don’t call Mattress Express Recyclers LLC a recycling company. According to the owner and the company’s attorney, the business upcycles the mattresses and box springs by dismantling them and selling the raw material — wood, metal and foam — on the open market.

“We are your friend; we are not your enemy,” said Cathy Goulin, owner of Mattress Express, during a Nov. 2 public hearing at City Hall. “We are cleaning up the environment. Anyone concerned about the environment has to be in favor of what we do.”

Semantics are important because recycling isn’t allowed in the city’s waterfront district. Last spring, when the company applied for a permit, the city’s zoning official, Edward Pimentel, determined that the Bourne Avenue business was a recycler, an operation not allowed in the special business district. The Waterfront Commission, however, decided that the company wasn’t technically recycling so it allowed the business to stay open.

Regardless of its classification, residents don’t like that Mattress Express creates extra truck traffic. They worry that dust, debris, contaminants and bug defogger is going to pollute the neighborhood and cause illnesses. The mattresses are treated with a chemical defogger while they are transported in a trailer from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) in Johnston to East Providence.

During the recent hearing, Rumford resident Peter Oppenheimer said the mattress business is another example of 25 years of an impotent zoning department.

“They have been snookered and fooled and allowed in businesses that have created health hazards to residents of the city that we live with every day,” he said.

“Upcycling, down-cycling, I just know that we just feel like we have been recycled in our neighborhood,” local resident Corliss Blanchard said.

The owner of the 70,000-square-foot building, Preston Halperin, told the Waterfront Commission Development Special District Commission that he has been cleaning up the business since he bought the building a year and a half ago. Since 2007, two other mattress-dismantling businesses operated from the same location and they left some 30,000 mattresses behind. Halperin, therefore, assumed the business didn’t need a new permit to operate.

“We didn’t go there in the dark of the night and start doing anything,” Halperin said. “We told (city officials) exactly what were willing to do to bring this property back.”

Halperin’s attorney, Dylan B. Conley, said a recent traffic study concluded that the business only adds 2.3 truck trips per day to nearby Narragansett Avenue.

The Waterfront District Special Commission agreed that Mattress Express is a permissible business and recommended that it be allowed to stay in business provided it doesn’t expand operations. It also suggested limiting hours and days of operation and prohibited mattress drop-offs from the public.

The Waterfront District Commission is expected to vote on those recommendations at its Nov.  19 meeting.

Some of the conditions may change, however, as rules for the state’s 2013 mattress recycling law are announced next spring. So far, Rhode Island has two mattress dismantling companies: Mattress Express Recyclers and Ace Mattress Recycling, based in West Warwick. RIRRC, a quasi-state agency, says it lacks the space for an operation of its own. The business, said RIRRC’s Sarah Reeves, is very labor intensive and offers little financial gain. The new mattress recycling law instead subsidizes independent businesses to the do the work. Funding for the subsidies come from a fee consumers pay when they purchase a new mattress.

As for TLA/Pond View, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the case is in litigation, and DEM is enforcing the law through two separate actions. 

The first action is to revoke TLA/Pond View’s registration to operate a construction and demolition debris processing facility, as the company doesn’t have a license from DEM. TLA/Pond View appealed the revocation to DEM’s Administrative Adjudication Division (AAD). The AAD then issued a decision upholding the revocation. The company appealed that decision to state Superior Court, but didn’t request a delay in the decision. DEM is conducting weekly inspections of the facility and reports that the company has ceased accepting solid waste and construction and demolition debris. The company has been continuing to process and remove the solid waste and debris that is already on the property.

The second action involves a notice of violation ordering the removal of the waste, which includes a penalty. The company filed an appeal of the notice with the AAD, and the hearing on the appeal is scheduled for later this month.

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  1. How irresponsible and misleading to publish a photo of TLA/Pond View, which has absolutely nothing to do with the business conducted by Express Mattress. Shameful.

  2. Preston, the story is about residential concerns regarding both businesses. We’re not being irresponsible when we make perfectly clear in the caption that the pile of debris belongs to TLA/Pond View. — Frank Carini/ecoRI News editor

  3. It is irresponsible for the city and state not to take actions on companies who are running their business illegal. There will be many items braught up on the meeting on November 19th 2015 that will show Express Mattress Recycling is in violation of many laws and is running it’s business illegal. Come to this meeting and see for yourself. Once you leave this meeting you will ask yourself the same question we have been asking. How could a business just open shop and not follow any of the laws every other business is required to. And they should be shut down. Please I beg of you come to the meeting at East Providence City Hall room 306 at 6 pm

  4. I’ve been wondering about this story. Is it better to move the business somewhere else, or to keep it where it is? I sympathize with the residents, but won’t moving the business just mean that someone else bears the brunt of the environmental damage? Every action we take is going to have some kind of environmental impact, but is this one (recycling) a net plus? And what is the ethical dilemma that could come about if we push this on different people instead of the ones currently experiencing it? Are these residents getting a larger than average share of pollution, or just their "normal" share given the amount of overall pollution out there?

    These seem like really important questions.

  5. It’s all about the lawyers knowing the laws, but they do not apply when you are a lawyer who owns the land. It’s a play about ignorance….look at me…what did I do….even though I know the laws.
    Look at the lawyers representing the land owner/lawyer, one is also a senator/lawyer, who if I remembered correctly, was a councilman at one time on the council and clearly stated at a council meeting something about dust from another facility.
    The senator would do anything to sell out a neighborhood for another dirty business, and he will make you think he really cares, but he doesn’t. Money talks to this senator!!
    Think he would advise his client to withdraw his application, based on misleading the public and the Waterfront Commission???

  6. "Halperin’s attorney, Dylan B. Conley, said a recent traffic study concluded that the business only adds 2.3 truck trips per day to nearby Narragansett Avenue.” 2.3 trucks??

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