Rhode Island legislators demand transparency and community input on burdensome Providence development

State Representatives José Batista and Senator Tiara Mack call for increased community input and transparency on development projects affecting South Providence and Washington Park. They argue the predominantly Black, Brown, and low-income areas are disproportionately burdened and deserve a voice in the decision-making process.

Rhode Island News: Rhode Island legislators demand transparency and community input on burdensome Providence development

April 19, 2023, 6:32 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

This morning Rhode Island State Representative José Batista and Senator Tiara Mack called on state leaders to increase the amount of transparent community input and conversation, saying South Providence and Washington Park continue to be the targeted for unsafe, neighborhood-eroding proposals without input from the community, even after years of public recognition that the area has long borne an outsized share of the state’s most burdensome development.

“South Providence and Washington Park are already burdened with an LNG terminal, a growing commercial port, an asphalt plant, a huge and potentially expanding scrapyard that pollutes our waterfront and resists regulation, and one of the widest, busiest sections of interstate highway in Rhode Island. Our kids suffer from alarmingly high asthma rates from the resulting pollution,” said Representative Batista (Democrat, District 12, Providence), a lifelong South Providence resident who grew up as one of those children suffering with asthma. “Our neighborhood deserves much better, and we absolutely deserve a chance to speak up and be heard about the developments that continue to be pushed on us.”

“The people of our districts deserve to be listened to about their needs, their concerns and their hopes about the future of their neighborhood,” said Senator Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence). “What does it say for our state when we continue to use a neighborhood that is predominantly Black, Brown and low-income as the place for everything people don’t want in their own neighborhoods, and continue to do so without even accepting public comment? Our constituents deserve a voice in all these matters and we will not sit silent as our neighborhood is harmed time and time again. We hope to be true partners with state leaders as we build a Providence that works for everyone.”

The two legislators were joined by Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence) to oppose the closure of Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School on Broad Street and the expansion of Rhode Island Recycled Metals, and call for greater transparency by the state with residents of Washington Park and South Providence.

When will Washington Park and South Providence residents get a say in their community?

The Providence Public School District, which is currently run by the state, faced criticism in December 2022 when news leaked that Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary and another city school would be closed down next year, without any input from or notification to the school community.

“If [state leaders] wanted to shut [the school], if it was such a good idea, why did they have to supply emotional support for the faculty and the students?” asked Katelyn Crueale, President of the Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School PTO. “Today I here once again demanding that Providence Schools and the Rhode Island Department of Education listen to our community and stop the closure of our school.”

Late last week, news broke that the owners of Rhode Island Recycled Metals, the waterfront scrapyard on Allens Avenue that has been subject to long-running environmental violation complaints by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, had purchased an adjacent 9.8-acre property along the waterfront.

ProvPort was allowed to extend their lease, but it wasn’t without a community fight and community resistance and community engagement process, with the process of future community engagement,” said Monica Huertas, Founder and Director of the People’s Port Authority. Rhode Island Recycled Metals was not involved with the process of community engagement, said Huertas because, “They don’t live here. They don’t want to engage with the community and keep dumping their crap…

“We’re asking, how in the world does [Rhode Island Recycled Metals] have more than 50 violations from the Attorney General’s office, and [they] are allowed to continue to pollute and allowed to expand?” asked Huertas.

“We were promised a robust community conversation, and we didn’t get it,” said Linda Perri, President of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “They are polluting the water and polluting the air and it is unacceptable that they are allowed to continue.”

“This is the tale of two cities. It’s the tale of the people who have, and have not,” said Harrison Tuttle, President of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC. “It is no coincidence that we got here through policies of environmental racism and lack of community engagement.”

There’s a fine line between morality and legality,” said Gerard Catala, President of the NAACP Providence Branch. “So while legally, these scrap metal places can come down here, we have to ask ourselves, Why?”

Additionally, a property at 1144 Eddy Street is under consideration by the state as a potential site for a facility for transitional housing for those experiencing homelessness. Residents and elected officials expressed alarm that the list of properties being considered by the Rhode Island Department of Housing to deal with the homelessness crisis in Rhode Island has not been made public, and that the community was early on being left out of discussions about the plans.

Representative Batista and Senator Mack, whose districts include the area in question, said that state officials need to actively include the residents of the neighborhood and consider their needs before that or the other proposals proceed.