TIVERTON — The idea of allowing six acres of the town landfill to serve as “a temporary storm debris storage site” has run into a buzz saw of opposition and “serious concerns” from the Conservation Commission in the two weeks since the plan was broached at a Town Council meeting on July 8.
At that time, Town Administrator James Goncalo told the council that the agencies behind the idea were “setting these areas up around the state.”
Mr. Goncalo was referring to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and the Rhode island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA).
The council approved in principle, without a vote, allowing the town landfill to be used as a temporary dumping ground for debris from the Sakonnet and Aquidneck Island area, and agreed that the matter would return to the council for further review and possible vote.
That was before the Tiverton Conservation Commission took a look at the matter at its own meeting on July 16. Its unanimous opposition may have turned heads on the council.
In a July 16 letter July 16 to Town Administrator James Goncalo, Tiverton Conservation Commission Chairman Tom Ramotowski shared the Commission’s “serious concerns” about the debris storage proposal.
“The Conservation Commission urges the Town Council NOT to allow the town landfill to be used by DEM for this purpose [emphasis in the original],” Mr. Ramotowski wrote, and he explained the group’s thinking.
At Councilor Bill Gerlach’s request, the Ramatowski letter and the entire matter was placed on the next regular council meeting agenda for Tuesday, August 13 [the Monday before is the VJ holiday], for action.
“I do think there are very new important discussions we need to have,” Mr. Gerlach said, as he rattled off a series of concerns: surface water runoff and contamination, the Nonquit Watershed, trucks and other traffic hauling debris, and the question of who decides what debris goes where.
Councilor Jay Lambert agreed. “I think this may be a basis for further discussion,” he said. There is also the basic question, he said, of “where do we put the debris from a major storm that comes from Tiverton and Little Compton.”
As the plan was presented July 8, the temporary use of the landfill as a storage area would be at no cost to the town. But it also did not appear that the town would be paid for the use.
The town might get some indirect value from the state, which may be asked to pave the parking area along Main Road that abuts the south side of the walking track (an estimated value of $31,000 according to Mr. Goncalo). The parking area, as indicated in a map that accompanied the presentation to the council, would be used as a “vehicle staging” area for trucks heading back to the landfill.
But Mr. Ramotowski’s letter added numerous points in opposition to hosting debris at the landfill. Homes near the landfill rely on private wells for their drinking water, he said, and no portion of the landfill is lined to “prevent undesirable/toxic materials from leaching into the area’s groundwater.”
Some of the drainage from the landfill flows into the Nonquit Pond watershed, he said, which is a reservoir belonging to Newport.
Mr. Ramotowski reminded the council that the DEM has “amply demonstrated its contempt for the Town and its residents by its ongoing refusal to grant Stafford Pond the protections from possible contamination and water quality degradation it deserves as a full-fledged public drinking water reservoir.”
Mr. Ramotowski said, “Surely, we do not want to give this same agency the opportunity to threaten the quality of ground and surface waters that residents depend upon for their daily use in another part of our Town.”
Other concerns mentioned by Mr. Ramotowski included interference with town resident’s use of the landfill, how long the debris would remain at the landfill and what could ever be done to force its removal.
He also noted that the Conservation Commission believes acceptance of the DEM debris storage plan could set the “potentially dangerous precedent in which the State of Rhode island will come to view the Town of Tiverton as the preferred site for the disposal of ‘debris’ generated at locations far afield from the Town itself. Before we know it, we could find our town hosting a regional landfill or even the replacement for the rapidly filling Central Landfill.”