Washington Park community: How to prevent a new business from destroying children’s health?

“Air and traffic pollution in and around Allens Avenue and the Port of Providence is out of control,” said ​Linda Perri, President of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “Increased truck traffic has grown exponentially to create a very serious health and structural safety issue that needs to be addressed immediately. This issue, as well as other pending projects here, overwhelm
Photo for Washington Park community: How to prevent a new business from destroying children’s health?

Published on January 9, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist

Air and traffic pollution in and around Allens Avenue and the Port of Providence is out of control,” said ​Linda Perri, President of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “Increased truck traffic has grown exponentially to create a very serious health and structural safety issue that needs to be addressed immediately. This issue, as well as other pending projects here, overwhelm the Washington Park residents and the city as a whole.”

Local politicians, academics and community members gathered in the Washington Park Community Center on Wednesday evening in opposition to a new transfer station proposed for the corner of Allens Avenue and Thurbers Avenue in the Port of Providence. Applications are in with the Providence City Planning Commission and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for the new business, which will bring an estimated 188 diesel trucks in and out of the area every day, and is expected to bring large quantities of dust and exhaust to an area that is already the epicenter of asthma in Rhode Island.

[Tim Faulkner of ecoRI has a terrific breakdown of the proposed project.][The Providence City Planning Commission (CPC) will have a hearing on the project on January 21, 2020, at 4:45pm at 444 Westminster St in Providence. Providence City Councilmember Pedro Espinal has written to the commission to request a two month delay for the hearing, but as of now that is the date. As many people as possible need to be present at this meeting.]

The meeting was organized by newly elected Providence City Councilmember Pedro Espinal (Ward 10) and Linda Perri of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. Attending the meeting were Rhode Island State Senators Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence) and Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence), State Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), and Providence City Councilmembers Helen Anthony  (Ward 2), Nirva LaFortune  (Ward 3), Carmen Castillo  (Ward 9) and Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11).

Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino was also on hand to talk about his ideas for improving the Port of Providence, based on an oped he recently wrote for the Providence Journal.

“The intent of the business… is to bring in 2500 tons of waste to our community every single day,” said Councilmember Espinal. “A ton is 2000 pounds so that five millions pounds of waste [per day]…”

Former Mayor Joseph Paolino talked about his vision for the future of the Port of Providence, which he sees as an entryway to the City of providence that is marred by scrap metal, chemical smells and strip clubs.

Dr Peter Simon of Brown University asked who present has a family member affected by asthma. Most hands went into the air. He noted that asthma is the number one reason children miss school in Providence. He further noted that addressing this issue is not on the radar of Angélica Infante-Green the new commissioner heading up the state takeover of Providence Schools.

“Why is that?” asked Simon.

“Because her boss likes polluters,” said Greg Gerritt, from the audience, referring to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo.

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“What’s the game here?” asked Simon. “They’re playing with out kids.”

Later, Simon asked if anyone knows who Peter Alviti is. He’s the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. “You know why kids can’t breathe? Air quality.”

Julian Drix, from the Rhode Island Department of Health, presented the facts about asthma in Rhode Island, confirming that the data shows that the area around the Port is significantly higher than it is in the state as a whole.

“It’s not just about poverty,” said Drix. “It’s also about racism, it’s about the quality of people’s environments.” Where this project is being proposed is where residents suffer the “highest overall burden of asthma” in Rhode Island.

“This is testament to what the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations is all about: Galvanizing neighbors and neighborhoods across the city to promote the common good and general welfare of the Providence community, our families and our children,” said John Goncalves, an organizer with the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and candidate for Providence City Council, Ward 1. “As a collective of neighborhood associations, we look forward to proactively generating ideas to solve overlapping problems and leveraging our membership base to advocate for legislation where strength in numbers and collective influence is paramount. We encourage all of the public to join us in this mission as we unify to improve our city.”​

The Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations issued a press release calling for a cleaner, more environmentally friendly Port of Providence.

Senator Harold Metts:

Senator Ana Quezada:

Representative Grace Diaz:

When her term began, City Councilmember Helen Anthony asked, “What are the plans for the development of our waterfront? I can’t believe that it’s just being used for industrial purposes. This cannot be the plan.”

Unfortunately, “All the answers to the questions I asked are “It is what it is, it’s not changing and we think you should not even concentrate on that.”

Anthony continued, “We need to rezone this land, and we need to creat a plan for its development, and I think the planing for that development should be lead by the neighbors who live here on the South Side… This is a discussion that needs to be started by you and supported by the whole [City] Council and the City as a whole.

“When the project is brought before the City Planning Commission,” warned Anthony, “they’re going to have very few tools to say no to this project.

“It is in keeping with our comprehensive plan as it is currently drafted, it is in keeping with the current zoning, they’re not asking for any variances, this is going to be a tough haul.

“I think where we should be starting, though, is at DEM [Department of Environmental Management], who is going to have to approve the Transfer Station application and start with the Governor, who is running DEM and say ‘Enough is enough.’ We cannot have this project and we will not stand for the waterfront to be used as it has been for years.”

Providence City Councilmember Mary Kay Harris:

Providence City Councilmember Carmen Castillo is a hotel worker union organizer. “I also organize in my community,” said Castillo. “I believe that what we need to do tonight is start an organization to fight. Not only for our neighborhood but for our City… I believe that working together id the key to preventing this from coming to our city.”

Providence City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune:

“Air and traffic pollution in and around Allens Avenue and the Port of Providence is out of control,” said ​Linda Perri, President of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “Increased truck traffic has grown exponentially to create a very serious health and structural safety issue that needs to be addressed immediately. This issue, as well as other pending projects here, overwhelm the Washington Park residents and the city as a whole.

“The city should be instituting a moratorium on any further toxic enterprises coming to this Allens Ave and Port location and concentrate on ‘cleaner and greener’ businesses here before we reach the point of no return. Providence is getting the reputation of being pollution friendly as opposed to tech business-friendly. We need to promote clean business and discourage this old way of creating revenue. In the long run, it’s just not worth it.”

Leah Bamberger, Director of Sustainability for Providence said that the Elorza Administration shares the community’s concerns about the proposal, particularly in light of the recently released Climate Justice Plan.

“This is considered a land development project,” said Bamberger. “The City Planning Commission (CPC) reviews and approves or denies or approves with conditions all of these land development projects. There are two stages. First is the master plan stage, and then there’s a preliminary plan stage.

“So with the master plan approval, and that is a meeting that is scheduled for January 22, the city by law has 90 days, once we receive the application to review it, and that can be approved, denied or approved with conditions. If approved at the master plan stage, essentially the project is vested, meaning there’s a clear path to approval. At the next stage he developer must present and have in hand all state approvals. So as was mentioned before, DEM plays a really important role.

“As previously mentioned by Councilwoman Anthony,, while we have this fantastic climate justice plan, the recommendations and the policies and the vision in that plan are not yet law,” continued Bamberger. “That plan was just released a couple of months ago. The rules on the books do not reflect the plan and the vision that has been set forth. Currently the planning commission has five criteria by which they legally are able to evaluate the project. Those five criteria are, is it consistent with the zoning? It is. Is it consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan? It pretty much is. Does it have street access? It does. Is it a buildable lot? It is. And does it meet environmental regulations? If the project can prove that it meets all state and local environmental regulations, the city legally has very little ground to stand on to deny the project.”

“I am sick of seeing our beautiful neighborhood treated like the city dump,” said Monica Huertas from NoLNGinPVD, “The children of South Side and Washington Park have the right to clean water, land, and air…

“A lot of folks have a vision for what our Port should look like, and what I’m saying as a community member is, ‘Let us at the table. We need to be at the table. In Harlem they did it, but guess what? When they did it in Harlem and they reduced the pollution, and all the polluters left, what happened to the people of Harlem? What happened to the Black and poor people of Harlem? They all left too. They were displaced. Gentrification happened.

“So what I’m saying is yes, we have to clean the Port, yes we have to have comprehensive plans, but we have to do it so that the people aren’t forced out of their homes.”

Huertas asked that those interested in helping with this vision join the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee (REJC).

“I formerly represented the East Side of Providence in the General Assembly,” said former State Representative Aaron Regunberg. “It’s a neighborhood that has a waterfront, just like this one. And yet it is literally inconceivable for me to imagine a project like this getting approved in my former district. And rightly so – a facility whose operation will release dust and chemicals into the air that nearby residents breathe, that will bring in diesel trucks and ships that cause even more pollution shouldn’t be right next to anybody’s home.

“But if it’s correct to say this would never be permitted in a higher-income and whiter neighborhood – and let’s be realistic, it never, ever would – than it shouldn’t be permitted here in Washington Park.

“In fact, this community – which already bears the burden of such an unjust and disproportionate level of pollution, whose children already suffer from asthma at a rate that can only be described as a moral catastrophe – this community should be the last place we consider for a development like this,” continued Regunberg. “Providence can be whatever we have the courage to see. For too long all we’ve seen along Allen’s Avenue is pollution and junk – but it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m proud to stand with so many community members from across our great city to insist that our people deserve better.”

Greg Gerritt:

“The time to assess risk and institute a new comprehensive plan for Allens Avenue and the Port of Providence is overdue,” said Doug Victor, from the Elmwood/Southside Crime Watch. “Drive down Allen’s Avenue. Witness a mountain of exposed materials. Smell the foul air on a windy day. Wonder what particulates you (and the neighboring communities) are breathing. Think about runoff into Narragansett Bay. Think about the soil. Wonder about increased health risks, asthma rates and who knows what else… toxicity? Environmental hazards? Who is who inside the Port? Who is operating responsibly and who is not? What’s the history of infractions and fines?”

“What do we know and not know? What is actually taking place in this important stretch of our city? Why? Why is this important?

“This is important because of the need for Providence to have a vital, profitable and city-friendly Port area. This is important because none of us know what toxic materials and activities are taking place, nor how these potential toxins combine and contribute to expensive health and environmental outcomes. This is important because none of us know, if an emergency occurs, what the emergency evacuation plan is nor how much of our city will be at risk, including nearby schools, hospitals, and health clinics. This is important because, in the event of a high water/ wind event, how many of these toxins will be delivered to our doorsteps, nor their impact, throughout our city and the surrounding communities. This is important because of how our Port area is situated in Narragansett Bay. Future projected sea-level rise points to how the Port is strategically situated to be one of the most important future deep ports on the eastern seaboard of our country. It will bring in significant future profit for both our city and our state. Port area businesses need a place to operate. Residents in our city’s neighborhoods need critical missing information and a trustworthy clean Port.”

Pedro Espinal
Joseph Paolino
John Goncalves
Helen Anthony

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