Public Health & Recreation

Proposed Asphalt Plant Upsets Seekonk Neighborhood

An asphalt plan has been proposed for this location on Industrial Court in Seekonk, Mass. (Grace Kelly/ecoRI News)

SEEKONK, Mass. — The trouble started in late October. That’s when Ann-Marie Cardosi received a letter from a prospective neighbor announcing their intended arrival at 45 Industrial Court, just behind Cardosi’s house.

But this isn’t your typical neighbor. It’s West Warwick, R.I.-based International Paving Corp., and it wants to make asphalt in Cardosi’s backyard.

“When you walk out onto my back patio and you look straight ahead, that’s where it’s going to be,” she said.

Neighbors who live nearby, as well as concerned residents from as far as Swansea and Barrington, R.I., have come out against the proposal, with some 1,500 people joining a Facebook group called Stop the Seekonk Asphalt Plant.

Residents fear negative effects of air and water pollution, and overall environmental degradation.

The risks of health and environmental impacts of modern asphalt plants are often overblown, according to International Paving Corp. In a recent presentation to the Planning Board, company representatives wrote, “The plant features the latest in emission and environmental controls, limiting noise, odor and dust. … The proposed plant must meet or exceed stringent state and federal permitting requirements prior to construction which are inclusive to environmental and human sensitivities.”

But in a 2016 paper, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice noted that “large amounts of harmful ‘fugitive emissions’ are released as the asphalt is moved around in trucks and conveyer belts.” The paper also stated, “A small asphalt plant producing 100 thousand tons of asphalt a year may release up to 50 tons of toxic fugitive emissions into the air.”

In addition to fears of pollution and the smell of hot tar permeating their homes and neighborhood, abutting property owners are also worried that the asphalt plant will have an adverse impact on the values of their homes.

“The numbers for most of the studies, it averages 15 to 30 percent loss of property value,” Cardosi said. “That’s huge.”

Barrington resident Lisa Davis, who lives about 1½ miles from the proposed site, is concerned that if this gets through it will open the door for more environmentally harmful projects to come to the four-town area.

“It can set a dangerous precedent,” she said. “You know, once it goes in in an area like that, what’s to stop others from going in near other residential areas?”

The idea for an asphalt plant was originally brought to the Planning Board last October, and meetings to hear about the proposal were pushed first to November, then December, before finally being heard formally Jan. 12. During that public meeting, the proposal was passed, albeit with contingencies.

“So that was when everything really kind of hit, you know, because they did pass it that night,” Cardosi said. “But it isn’t a done deal in the town, but it was a very mixed message that we residents got that night.”

According to Cardoso, it seemed that the Planning Board members were against the proposal, but by the time they voted around 10:30 p.m., only one member voted against it.

Cardosi thinks the Planning Board felt it had no choice but to grant the permit, since the asphalt plant fits the industrial zoning for the area.

Pawtucket, R.I., had been approached by International Paving Corp. to build a similar asphalt plant, but the City Council rejected it.

While the proposal still has to go through the Seekonk Conservation Commission and pass muster against certain traffic concerns and environmental regulations, residents and neighbors are concerned that if the plant is allowed there will be no turning back.

“There is this sentiment that other people who have fought against plants like these have told us, and it’s that you cannot allow them to go in because once the plants go in, it is an environmental and lifestyle disaster,” Davis said. “A lot of these plants break the rules, they say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just going to be ten trucks a day,’ but it’s actually 500 a day. There’s not going to be any close oversight.”

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