Public Health & Recreation

Crickets Heard Along Providence’s Heavily Polluted Allens Avenue

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The Port of Providence area has had to deal repeatedly with a nauseating stench from the Sprague Energy Terminal. The odor problems began in September 2017, after Sprague converted two of its tanks to hold liquid asphalt products. The company has been slow to address the problem. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Last month, when Ward 10 council member Pedro Espinal introduced a resolution calling for more environmental controls and compliance in the Port of Providence, the pledge was sponsored by 13 other City Council members and passed unanimously during a March 18 meeting.

ecoRI News published a story April 5 noting the passage of the resolution and quoted City Council members from a press release in which they noted the area’s problems.

While the resolution shines some light on long-overlooked problems, it will take more than its 317 words and its request to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to provide the council with a copy of all notices of violation issued to businesses and property owners in the Port of Providence for the past 10 years to solve the public-health and environmental-justice problems that plague two nearby neighborhoods.

Since the pollution issues facing South Providence and Washington Park are presented as council-wide concerns, ecoRI News recently asked, through the council’s deputy chief of staff, all 15 City Council members for their responses to three questions. They had a workweek to respond.

• What can/should the city do to address the public-health and environmental concerns along Allens Avenue and the Port of Providence?

• Why do you believe state and local officials, past and present, have been slow to address the health and environmental issues that plague the South Providence and Washington Park neighborhoods?

• How does the city get more Port of Providence businesses to become better neighbors?

The idea behind asking the questions in a follow-up to the resolution was to inform ecoRI News readers about how City Council members plan to address the health and environmental issues along Providence’s waterfront and why the situation was allowed to become such a problem.

Whereas, an Allens Avenue business has been allowed to operate and expand even though it lacks required permits; and

Whereas, the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure along a waterfront vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surge has been supported; and

Whereas, in an area busy with truck activity, the state’s idling law is rarely or ever enforced; and

Whereas, the neighborhoods’ high rates of asthma have long been ignored; and

Whereas, the health and safety of South Providence and Washington Park have long been overlooked; and

Whereas, a nauseating stench has been allowed to blanket the area for the past four years.

Now, therefore, it’s expected busy but concerned council members will respond to ecoRI News’ questions.

Espinal, who represents Lower South Providence and Washington Park, was the only council member to respond. His answers can be viewed here.

It’s the pattern local and state officials have taken when asked to address the beleaguered neighborhoods’ problems. City Council members and General Assembly representatives don’t make themselves available for interviews. The mayor’s office issues statements that say little, while making no one in the administration available to answer questions. State agencies say enforcement actions have been taken and make excuses.

It’s easier to pass unenforceable resolutions, request public information that should be readily available, issue toothless violations, point fingers, shrug shoulders, and avoid difficult conversations.

Meanwhile, nothing really changes. The area remains a sacrifice zone.

Editor’s note: For our April 5 story, Espinal, Ward 1 council member John Goncalves, who was quoted in the March 18 press release, and council president Sabina Matos were asked similar questions. Espinal’s answers were inadvertently received after deadline; the other two council members didn’t respond. Espinal wasn’t asked to answer the questions sent to the entire council the following week.

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  1. Thank you ECCO RI News , for keeping this issue front and center….for all of us who live near by and other Providence residents who are literally ‘sick’ from breathing the toxic fumes…. Thank you!
    To all who are desperately trying to just ‘clean up’ South Providence, once and for all the time is now to think’ cleaner and greener’.
    Enough is enough….. years of compounded neglect needs to end now!

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