ecoRI News in Brief


Compiled by ecoRI News staff
Jan. 31, 2023

Owners of Lead-Contaminated Properties Reach Settlements with AG’s Office

PROVIDENCE — The owners of four lead-contaminated properties have reached settlement agreements with Attorney General Peter Neronha.

The attorney general’s office was pursuing enforcement actions and lawsuits against the properties after finding significant lead hazards on-site and the lead poisoning of a child. Three of the properties are in Providence, with a fourth in Burrillville.

Three of the owners of the properties have agreed to pay penalties for the violations ranging from $55,000 to $80,000. The Burrillville property, owned by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation — more commonly known as Freddie Mac — and valued at $400,000, will be donated to the NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley with a deed restriction mandating it be used for affordable housing for 99 years.

The estimated total value of the enforcement actions and assessed penalties is more than $700,000.

“The disposition of these cases demonstrates the serious legal consequences that landlords face when they refuse to follow the law, despite multiple notifications from the Department of Health, and opportunities for low-cost abatement and remediation,” Neronha said. “Most of the time, it is neither expensive nor difficult to remediate these dangerous conditions.”

The attorney general’s office has filed 18 lawsuits against landlords with serious lead violations on their properties since 2021. All of the lawsuits involved properties where at least one child was determined to have lead poisoning. Forty-five housing units have been remediated as a result of legal action from the attorney general, according to his office.

The attorney general has said he will advocate for stronger lead poisoning and prevention laws, along with more resources for lead remediation.

In the General Assembly, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, has introduced legislation to create a lead water supply replacement program for public and private lines throughout the state. Supply lines contaminated with lead would have 10 years to be replaced.

Any home built prior to 2011 would be required to have a lead risk assessment conducted as part of sale on the property. Current state law only applies to homes built before 1978.

Financial assistance for replacement would be funded by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, with no-cost options for property owners.

In a legislator coffee hour for the Environmental Council of Rhode Island on Tuesday morning, Speaker Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, pledged to use federal dollars this year to spur lead pipe replacement in water supply lines. Shekarchi noted that, despite having the money last year, lawmakers were waiting on guidance from the federal government before making monetary commitments to lead pipe replacement.

Jan. 26, 2023

Army Corps of Engineers to Assess Vulnerability of Fox Point Hurricane Barrier

PROVIDENCE — Working with the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the Providence Resilience Partnership (PRP) recently secured $1 million in funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the climate vulnerability of the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. The structure, which spans the Providence River, was built between 1960 and 1966 and is designed to protect the low-lying downtown area from damaging storm surge and floods.

“When the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier was built almost 60 years ago, it was state of the art — but the nation was not experiencing $1 billion extreme weather disasters every 18 days,” Michele Jalbert, PRP’s executive director, said when announcing the funding. “As climate-related severe weather rampages across the country, coupled with sea level rise we see along the coast, it’s critical to assess the resilience of a key protective structure for Rhode Island’s economic center.”

In a 2021 report Towards a Resilient Providence, the PRP called for a thorough evaluation of the barrier’s integrity and ability to protect Providence given intensifying climate trends. Hurricanes are changing in their speed, storm extent, rainfall intensity, duration, and wind speeds — all trending to make future hurricanes more catastrophic. Ongoing sea-level rise exacerbates storm surge associated with these hurricanes, potentially compromising the barrier’s efficacy in the future.

The assessment of the hurricane barrier is one step in PRP’s larger initiative, Climate Ready Providence, to complete a citywide climate risk assessment and collaboratively build a roadmap for climate resilience solutions.

Jan. 21, 2023

Bill Introduced to Protect R.I. from Plastics Industry’s ‘Advanced Recycling’ Push

PROVIDENCE — Backed by 40 co-sponsors, Rep. Michelle McGaw, D-Portsmouth, has introduced legislation to prohibit any type of new high-heat waste processing facilities in Rhode Island.

The legislation (H5142) is a response to efforts in Rhode Island and nationwide backed by the American Chemistry Council, a plastics industry advocacy group, to reclassify the process of high-heat processing of plastic waste as manufacturing instead of waste management.

“In 2023, the Ocean State should loudly and clearly reject any plan to fill our environment with toxins from the processing of plastic waste,” McGaw said. “Our state must not be fooled by the plastics industry’s effort to rebrand and protect itself at a time when we all know we need to drastically reduce our use of its products. We should prohibit these facilities in no uncertain terms and protect our people and our environment from this dangerous type of pollution.”

The plastics industry has been pushing state legislatures across the country to allow a process it calls “advanced recycling,” which involves disposing of plastic waste by processing it at high temperatures. Few such facilities exist in the United States, but those that do don’t recycle plastic into other plastics; instead they produce synthetic fuel, which is burned there or elsewhere, and waste byproducts.

Environmental groups say the process emits toxins and just as much carbon pollution as ordinary incineration, both from the fuel used for the process and in the use of the resulting synthetic fuel.

There are currently only six operational commercial advanced recycling facilities in the 21 states where the plastics industry has succeeded in getting lawmakers to exempt advanced recycling from environmental protection laws, according to Just Zero.

The Massachusetts-based organization and other environmental advocates warn that air emissions, chemicals, and waste products generated at these facilities can include lead, mercury, chromium, benzene, toluene, arsenic, and dioxins — all of which pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

All six of those facilities employ pyrolysis — the same high-heat process that Rhode Island rejected for medical waste two years ago. At that time, facing a proposal on the West Warwick-East Greenwich border to process medical waste from around the region, the General Assembly passed legislation to prohibit new high-heat medical waste processing facilities near residential neighborhoods, schools, nursing facilities, and sensitive environmental areas.

McGaw’s bill would prohibit all types of high-heat waste processing, not just for medical waste, and applying that ban statewide.

Jan. 13, 2023

125 Acres of R.I. Forestland Protected for Hunting and Fishing

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has permanently protected 125 acres of forested land in North Kingstown for public recreational use, including hunting. DEM received a $1.25 million grant from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service to complete the purchase of the D’Ambra property.

The property abuts a spur of Silver Spring Lake, “one of the state’s premier freshwater fishing areas,” in the village of Saunderstown, between Congdon Hill and Pendar Roads. It consists of upland forest with some wetland habitat and perennial streams and contains the headwater tributaries of the Mattatuxet River.

“Forests perform many valuable ecological functions and are central to state efforts to preserve biodiversity and increase resilience to climate change, so to be able to preserve this swath of pristine forestland and help protect the Narrow River watershed at the same time is a huge win for the public,” DEM director Terry Gray said. “DEM is grateful for the support of Rhode Island hunters and sportsmen whose firearms and ammunition purchased in the state are taxed expressly for the purpose of funding conservation projects like this.”

The conservation of this property will add to more than 1,100 acres of protected lands in the Narrow River watershed and help to further protect the water quality of the Mattatuxet and waters downstream, including Shady Lea Brook and Carr Pond. The D’Ambra property is sandwiched between two existing conservation parcels owned by the town of North Kingstown. Together, the properties total 224 acres of connected, protected high-value forested habitat. The site will be open to the public and hunting and fishing will be allowed.

Jan. 12, 2023

Bill Would Speed Replacement of Lead Pipes in R.I. Water Systems

PROVIDENCE — Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, has introduced legislation to address the problem of lead pipes in Rhode Island’s water supply system.

The Lead Poisoning Prevention Act (2023-S-0002) would create a lead water supply replacement program for both public and private service lines, with a requirement that all affected lines are replaced within 10 years.

“This important legislation will give new urgency to the replacement of antiquated, unsafe lead pipes,” said Ruggerio, who represents North Providence and Providence. “It addresses a serious threat to the well-being of all our children, and better protects the health of all Rhode Islanders.”

Despite substantial improvements in the prevention of childhood lead poisoning and the passage of lead abatement laws, several hundred children in Rhode Island are still poisoned annually. Many of them live in marginalized neighborhoods.

In 2020, the statewide number of first-time lead poisoning cases among children 6 and younger increased to 472, up from 388 in 2019, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH).

Of those 472 cases, 69% were recorded in four cities — Central Falls (Pawtucket Water Supply Board), Pawtucket (Pawtucket Water Supply Board), Providence (Providence Water), and Woonsocket (Woonsocket Water Division) — and where 74% of the youth exposed were children of color, according to DOH.

“No family should have to worry that their home’s water supply may be poisoning their children. A home should be a safe and nurturing environment, and every family deserves access to safe, lead-free, potable drinking water,” Ruggerio said.

Under the legislation, financial assistance for lead pipe replacement would be provided through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, including no-cost options for property owners. To help develop the state’s workforce, the legislation would set requirements for water suppliers and contractors to participate in apprenticeship programs.

The bill would require water suppliers to create a service line inventory no later than Oct. 16, 2024, to determine the existence or absence of lead within each water connection in its service area. It would also establish new notification and reporting requirements for suppliers to ensure transparency in the identification and replacement of service lines containing lead.

Additionally, the bill requires a lead risk assessment be conducted for any home built prior to 2011 as part of any transaction involving the property. Currently, those assessments are required only for homes built prior to 1978.

Jan. 9, 2023

R.I. Wild Plant Society Offering $2,500 Grant for Botanical Studies, Projects

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The Rhode Island Wild Plant Society is seeking applications for its annual grant to aid individuals in the study of wild plants and their habitats. To qualify, applicants must be an educator, a member of a Rhode Island botanical or environmental association, or a student in a field related to botany or environmental studies.

The grant is for up to $2,500 and includes a one-year membership to RIWPS. The project goal must involve environmental activities or research in any area of study related to wild plants and/or their habitats. These activities may involve such things as installation of gardens, invasive removal, or support for extracurricular activities with a community outreach component. It can also be used for project materials, workshops or courses. Applicants must be a Rhode Island resident or a student at a Rhode Island educational institution. The residency does not apply to students.

Jan. 5, 2023

Infrastructure Bank Provides $15M to Newport for Drinking Water Projects

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank recently closed on $15.8 million in loans for drinking water infrastructure projects in the city of Newport.

A $12.5 million loan from the Infrastructure Bank’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund will finance upgrades to the Long Wharf pump station, including replacing pumping and odor control systems and installing a deployable flood barrier wall. The upgrades will harden the wastewater treatment system to the impacts of flooding while also reducing odors at the plant, according to state officials.

A $3.3 million loan from the Infrastructure Bank’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will allow the Newport Water Department to replace water mains citywide and to identify and replace all lead service lines connected to the project.

Dec. 22, 2022

Middletown Farmland Protected from Future Development

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — The Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) has conserved a 9.5-acre farmland property off Third Beach Road. The property is within the Maidford River/Paradise Brook drinking supply watershed and is near other conserved areas, including the Arnow property, conserved in 2016, and the Norman Bird Sanctuary. It has prime farmland soils and has long been in agricultural use, most recently as a hayfield and for vegetable farming.

The property owner, Forester Peabody, worked with his father, John Peabody, and ALT to conserve the land prior to the elder Peabody’s death earlier this year.

“I’m thankful that ALT was able to grant my father’s final wish of ensuring that my grandfather’s farm will never be developed,” Forester Peabody said. “I remember as a young child, before ALT was even founded, hearing my dad say that he never wanted to see houses built in his father’s field.”

Chuck Allott, ALT’s executive director, noted the conservation easement was funded in part by a bequest the organization received in 2018. That gift was made by Beth Everett of Middletown, who left ALT $250,000 upon her death for the purpose of land conservation.

“Mrs. Everett made this bequest in memory of her late husband, Walter Everett,” Allott said. “We are very pleased to permanently honor their generosity through the conservation of this beautiful Middletown property.

“By conserving this land, we’ve expanded the habitat corridor of conserved land in Paradise Valley and protected our vulnerable drinking water supply by restricting future development. Because the property is visible from scenic Third Beach Road and Howland Avenue, its conservation has also helped to safeguard the scenic viewscape in this historic area.”

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