Public Health & Recreation

New Facility Would Increase Allens Avenue Pollution

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A construction and debris demolition operation has been proposed for this nearly 4-acre site between I-95 and Allens Avenue in Providence. (Google Earth)

PROVIDENCE — A construction and demolition facility proposed for the corner of Allens and Thurbers avenues expects to receive 188 truck deliveries daily. Due to limited driveway space, trucks would have to circle the area if the delivery queue is full.

William Thibeault of Everett, Mass.-based Allens Providence Recycling LLC recently submitted applications to the City Planning Commission and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for a proposed construction and demolition (C&D) operation in the heavily polluted industrial area along the city’s working waterfront.

The first draft of the master plan is scheduled to be heard by the City Planning Commission (CPC) at its Jan. 21 meeting.

If the master plan is approved at a subsequent CPC meeting, a final plan will be submitted to the city. Planning department staff can then issue final approval without a subsequent public meeting or voting by the City Council or the Zoning Board of Review.

Once the city issues a letter of compliance, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will begin its review of the application, which would include a public hearing and would be expected to last at least nine months. Allens Providence Recycling (APR) is seeking a solid-waste transfer station license, which requires a construction-and-demolition-debris processing permit, a pollution-discharge system permit, and a stormwater permit from DEM.

The DEM application offers new details of the proposed project. The 3.87-acre site, which borders Interstate 95 at Exit 18, is classified as a brownfield. Dating back to 1950, the former freight station has a history of industrial operations. Years of metal casting, scrap-metal processing, and waste storage has contaminated the soil with unsafe levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, lead, and arsenic.

Between 2000 and 2005, the operation was written up several times by DEM for safety violations, improperly stored material, and taking unauthorized items. During a portion of that time the site was used as a scrap yard and trash-collection operation. The state fire marshal threatened to close the facility after an equipment fire in 2005.

Thibeault bought the property from J. Bloomfield & Sons on Feb. 18, 2018 for $950,000. A portion of the site is currently used as a scrap-metal recycling facility and a tow yard for City Towing.

Redeveloping the site requires removal of polluted materials and capping contaminated areas with a foot of soil. A new asphalt driveway and parking lot and a new building would act as a cap on the contaminated material. Two brick buildings would be demolished and replaced by a 56,0000-square-foot warehouse, where waste would be dumped, sorted, shredded, bailed, wrapped in plastic, and loaded on railcars and tractor trailers bound for recycling or waste-disposal facilities.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) says more information is needed about the project, but based on the initial application, the environmental law group is concerned about pollution from a substantial increase in truck traffic.

Dust, a problem that has plagued neighbors of other C&D facilities, also concerns CLF. The facility expects to accept, process, and ship out 2,500 tons per day of debris and commercial and municipal waste. This material is expected to come from Rhode Island and other states. The proposed facility wouldn’t accept medical waste, nonhazardous liquids, radioactive waste, sludge, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tires, and car batteries.

Compliance would rely on observations by scale house operators and attendants on the tipping floor. Unauthorized waste and loads with excessive dust, odors, or liquids would be reloaded on the delivery trucks and removed from the premises, according to the project’s application.

Although operations would take place inside the warehouse, five large bay doors would be open during business hours. The facility expects to operate six days a week from 5 a.m.-10 p.m., and plans to seek approval to operate 24 hours a day. Interior sprinklers would be installed to contain particle pollution. Air-monitoring devices would be positioned at four sites outside the facility.

“We have concerns about significant amounts of dust getting into homes and the community nearby,” CLF staff attorney Kevin Burdis said.

Both CLF and DEM are scrutinizing the liquid waste, called leachate, that spills from trucks onto the tippling floor. According to the application, liquid would be filtered and stored in two 5,000-gallon tanks and sprayed outside the building to control dust. CLF and DEM want assurances that this runoff doesn’t reach the Providence River.

Health policy expert, Julian Drix, a member of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force, gave a recent presentation outlining the pollution from the city’s industrial waterfront. State air monitoring found unhealthy levels of benzine and diesel-fuel emissions, both are carcinogens and linked to respiratory disorders. Drix noted that asthma data from the Rhode Island Department of Health found that neighborhoods abutting the Port of Providence experience high emergency room visits for low-income children who suffer from asthma.

Drix said there needs to be more air monitoring of the port area and Allens Avenue to help with planning for climate crisis goals and transportation. Studies of the chemicals and pollutants, he said, are needed to address health risks, such as the cumulative impacts of pollution, and safety risks associated with emergency preparedness and response.

“We don’t have those systems currently,” Drix said at the Environmental Sustainability Task Force’s Dec. 17 meeting. ”We don’t have a port government structure. There is no port authority. There’s no real structure.”

The city’s Climate Justice Plan notes that pollution problems in the Port of Providence area need to be addressed and promises frontline communities, such as those bordering the industrial waterfront on Allens Avenue, will be part of the planning process going forward.

Concerned residents plan to voice their objection to the project at the Jan. 8 meeting of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Washington Park Center, 42 Jillson St. City Council member Pedro Espinal is expected to attend.

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  1. While I openly recognize that operations such as this require stringent regulatory scrutiny before being permitted to proceed, I would like to point out that there are positive aspects to this proposal:
    1. C&D recycling is an important beneficial resource conservation tool both for the materials reclaimed and the landfill space that is saved, they fill a necessary, even green, role. Most if not all of the wood recycled at the facility that used to be in E.Providence was sold to companies that produce engineered (flat boxed) furniture (think Ikea).
    2. If you must have these facilities you certainly DON’T want to put them on pristine clean land, so putting them on land that is already contaminated is preferred. Furthermore, redevelopment projects like this result in cleaning & capping work (as is proposed) that might otherwise go unperformed.
    3. The existence of a rail spur at this location means that the shipping out of reclaimed material will be highly efficient as rail transport is far more energy efficient than shipping by truck.
    4. There was never ANY evidence that connected ALLEGED air quality issues in E.Providence with that C&D facility. Indeed, a DEM air-monitoring station at a nearby elementary school showed no noticeable difference in air quality with the Providence metro area. No one in the area would even allow the operator to test on their properties.
    5. The facility in E.Providence had an unpaved, outdoor sorting area. The article above indicates that the proposed facility will have an indoor sorting area and that the surroundings will be under an asphalt cap and the roads in the area are paved to reduce dust.
    6. The high levels of historic contamination along the Allens Ave. waterfront mean that all of the grand schemes of huge, green mixed-use developments in this area are little more than pipe-dreams without large-scale, long-term, public/private vision & investment. At the present time, while people love to talk about revitalizing this area, no one has been willing to put their money where their mouth is.

  2. This is an incredibly stupid idea. Allens Avenue is already an eyesore that I feel compelled to apologize for when guests come to town. Clearly, the best way of using this area is NOT to put in more polluting sources, but to remove the industrial users, clean up to the necessary level, pave and build mixed use-facilities and public waterfront access. I know it’s really dirty there (I am an environmental consultant and have worked on sites in the area), but this area can be made more people-friendly with appropriate cleanup, land use controls,and a cover over the whole thing. NO MORE POLLUTION TO THE BAY!!!!!

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