‘Garbage Depot’ Protested at Canceled Public Hearing
January 22, 2020
PROVIDENCE — The Jan. 21 hearing for the proposed waste-processing facility on Allens Avenue was postponed but it didn’t stop opponents from speaking out and making a symbolic gesture against the project.
Some 100 activists from the Washington Park Neighborhood Association (WPNA) and environmental groups such as Sunrise Rhode Island learned of the cancellation several hours before the meeting of the City Plan Commission (CPC). They nevertheless held a brief rally outside the office building and made a show of solidarity inside the meeting room.
During the rally, City Council member Pedro Espinal described how the addition of about 200 trucks per day heading to and from the proposed waste-processing facility would impact the five schools in neighborhood.
“This facility will only increase the pollution and contaminants of South Providence,” Espinal said.
Linda Perri, head of the WPNA, read a letter of opposition from John Kelly, president of the nearby Meeting Street School.
Kelly’s letter explained how the child development center has spent $30 million since 2005 to remediate brownfields so that buildings and athletic fields could be built. He noted that the school will spend another $15 million this spring to create athletic fields on 2 acres of contaminated land two blocks from the proposed waste-processing facility.
The short- and long-term health impacts from the facility, which will process construction and demolition waste and sort and ship municipal waste, would create excessive pollution that threatens children most, according to Kelly’s Jan. 17 letter to the CPC.
“We truly have a catastrophe in the making,” he wrote.
Kevin Budris, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the legal advocacy group would fight the project, which he called a “garbage depot” because it would process two-thirds the volume of the daily waste that goes to the Central Landfill in Johnston.
If built, this waste-processing facility and rail yard would only cover about 4 acres but it would serve as the largest transfer station by volume in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Several activists spoke out during the CPC meeting after Christine West, chair of the City Plan Commission, explained that public comment wasn’t permitted.
UpRise RI journalist Steve Alquist pressed West for an explanation as to why public comment was prohibited. West claimed that a stenographer wasn’t present — although one was there for other proposed projects on the meeting agenda. She said opponents of the project would be better served to speak at community meetings, where members of the CPC wouldn’t be present.
“This meeting is designed to hear comments, it’s not a dialogue, it’s not a community discussion,” West said in an exchange with Alquist.
Espinal asked for assurance that the next meeting wouldn’t be postponed on short notice.
Robert Azar, deputy director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said that allowing delays by the applicant is up to the discretion of the CPC but that it can deny a request if the applicant is intentionally stalling the process and public participation.
“This commission is subject to being frustrated just as well,” Azar said. “At some point, I would argue that the commission would deny a request for a continuance.”
As a non-verbal show of solidarity, opponents of the project raised their hands to exhibit their disapproval of the proposal.
The hearing was continued until the CPC’s March 17 meeting at the Department of Planning and Development, 444 Westminster St., at 4:45 p.m.
Christopher Koehler, the lead engineer for the project, didn’t speak at the meeting, nor did the owner of the proposed waste facility, William Thibeault of Everett, Mass., who wasn’t present.
The Fall River Herald News described Thibeault’s business as buying “distressed properties with large real estate holdings in the Boston area and ownership of distressed properties in the eastern part of (Massachusetts).”
Thibeault bought the former Shell Oil Weaver’s Cove in Fall River, Mass., in 2016, the site of a proposed and rejected liquefied-natural-gas tanker terminal. He also bought the former Montaup Electric Co. power plant in Somerset, Mass. Fall River denied Thibeault permits to bring fill to the Weaver’s Cove site and store vehicles there.
According to the Concord Monitor of New Hampshire, Thibeault had incidents in 2008 and 2010 for illicit waste storage at his facilities in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.