EAST PROVIDENCE — When Jo-Ann Durfee's phone rang at about 3:30 p.m., Monday, she had a gut feeling the news wasn't good.
That's when she said “an anonymous caller” informed her that Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit had approved TLA-Pond View's application, one that requested a tripling of its processing amount from 500 tons of construction and demolition debris per day to 1,500 tons.
Coit issued a new, three-year solid waste facility management license to TLA-Pond View, but also imposed 27 conditions, those to occur during a phased-in schedule, and once an air monitoring plan is in place.
“There are a lot of restrictions in DEM's approval; however, we're going to have to rely on the East Providence Zoning Officer and the city,” Durfee stated Tuesday morning. She has suffered numerous health problems over the past few years, and she claims — as do others — they're directly related to airborne dust produced by Pond View.
That's why she and at least 150 other Rumforders formed a group called the East Providence Coalition to fight the facility's plan to move to 1,500 tons per day.
“They're going to need to keep a much closer eye on TLA-Pond View's operations,” she added. “(Pond View powers-that-be) still will need to operate in accordance with the January 1997 rules and regulations for a compost and solid waste management facility.
“I really can't comprehend why (Coit) would accept that application. It just blows my mind. (DEM representatives) have said they haven't found any violations, but they also don't have the manpower to regulate Pond View at even 500 tons a day. How the heck are they going to do it at 1,500 tons? It's so nonsensical.”
She indicated she immediately began calling other coalition members after receiving word, and their reactions were “major disgust.
“I guess I'm going to be a prisoner in my home (on Omega Way) for longer than I wanted to be,” she offered. “The rest of the residents around here have talked about how their lives have been shattered.
“I have a neighbor across the street whose house is up for sale, and somebody stopped by to look at it,” she continued. “He asked what all the signs stating 'No to Pond View' meant, and we told him about the construction and debris recycling facility nearby. He just looked at us, said, 'Good luck!' and walked away, so moving is not an option.”
In a DEM news release issued late Monday afternoon, Coit stated “(The) license decision was carefully crafted after reviewing the application and public concerns, and includes important conditions designed to protect health and the environment.
“DEM will continue to aggressively monitor the Pond View facility to ensure that it operates in compliance, and to reach out to the city to coordinate on conditions and oversight of (it),” she added.
Coit also noted that, under a joint agreement between DEM and the Enviromental Protection Agency, an air monitoring station will be installed downwind of TLA-Pond View to test for particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide and black carbon on a continuous basis.
DEM explained many quality-of-life concerns raised by residents, such as zoning, hours of operation, trucks, traffic hazards and noise, are the city's responsibility to address through local ordinances, and are outside it's legal authority.
In the 1990s, the Zoning Board made the decision to allow Pond View to be sited at the Dexter Road location. DEM's license specifies that Pond View is responsible for ensuring compliance with all zoning requirements of the city, and in no way restricts the city's right and ability to enforce its authority with regard to zoning and other applicable local laws.
At-Large City Councilman Billy Conley, a former city solicitor and current attorney, admitted he was disgruntled by Coit's ruling, but also noted that, given the conditions TLA-Pond View must follow, “the city now can seize the initiative to ensure compliance with our local zoning regulations and the original zoning variance granted to (it) in 1997.
“I'm disappointed that the DEM had issued the permit, but – on the encouraging side – the extent of the conditions exhibits its' recognition that the city of East Providence has jurisdiction to enhance its zoning laws.
“The dust still will be in DEM's jurisdiction, but a lot of the land use changes that have taken place at Pond View are beyond the original zoning variance granted to them. For instance, when you look at the conditions, the DEM has cited the rail spurs that are on that site now. Those were not permitted in the original zoning variance. It did not provide for that type of land use activity.
“I'm certainly going to be advocating, as a member of the City Council, that the land use is in violation of the variance, so the city should do something about it.”
Among those conditions:
n From the date of the license's issuance until 90 days following the Air Quality Monitoring Plan, the facility may receive no more than 750 tons of debris per day; 1,000 tons for the next 90 days; and 1,250 tons for the ensuing 90 days. After those three monitoring periods, then TLA-Pond View may increase its processing amount to 1,500 tons per day.
n At no time may the facility grind more than 150 tons of wood per day.
n TLA-Pond View must maintain an $800,000 closure bond to satisfy financial assurance requirements.
n The facility must be responsible to ensure compliance with all applicable zoning requirements and local ordinances of the city of East Providence.
n It should only receive construction and demolition classified solid waste in accordance with its approved operating plan; and any co-mingled materials inadvertently received in a “C & D” load must be removed immediately and segregated in a secure roll-off.
n TLA-Pond View must maintain a 50-foot buffer zone between its operations and the adjacent Omega Pond.
n It must submit a plan to increase vegetation in portions of the buffer zone, and it must include the addition of plantings to the earthen berm. That plan has to be submitted to the DEM for review within 45 days from the date of the license's issuance, not to mention a Air Quality Monitoring Plan.
n And it must conduct a noise level study, similar to those performed previously during maximum increased daily operations. That report must be forwarded to city officials within days of its completion.
Modifications and improvements
As for dust control, TLA-Pond View has to make modifications and improvements to the wood-grinding operation to minimize any potential dust issues.
According to Coit's list, measures will include installation of down chutes and securing metal plates onto the sides of the conveyors; those must be achieved within 10 days of the license's issuance. In addition, facility representatives must request City Council approval to increase the height of the existing 10-foot, wooden fence located northeast and east of its boundaries.
“Subject to the city's review, approval or denial, TLA-Pond View shall modify the fence accordingly within 90 days,” Coit's list read.
When contacted on Tuesday morning, Sen. Daniel DaPonte (D-District 14, East Providence, Pawtucket) indicated he was disappointed with the DEM's decision.
On April 14, the State Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by DaPonte. That bill would ban any debris processing facility within 1,000 feet of a residential area from processing more than 150 tons per day.
Last Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives heard a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Helio Melo, ironically on the same day Durfee and the coalition conducted a rally inside the State House rotunda.
“I'll continue to work in the framework of the law and the legislative process to address the neighbors' concerns,” he stated. “There is (still) my bill, which I understand will be posted for a hearing in the House soon.”
When asked if hope remains for concerned community members in Rumford, DaPonte offered, “My belief is yes.”
Insisted Durfee: “We the neighbors, and the coalition, will not give up our fight for safer air. There are lives at stake here.”