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West Warwick dumped debris near town park for years, told to remove it

Target 12

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ An area behind a West Warwick park that was used for dumping municipal debris for years must be cleaned up at the taxpayers’ expense following an enforcement order from the state.

According to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the solid waste breached the legally required 200-foot buffer of the Pawtuxet River’s path behind the Cal Ripken baseball field in Riverpoint Park.

The estimated cost of the cleanup is $110,000, but the town council has so far approved $60,000, with one official citing a lack of funds to cover the entire bill at the present time.

A DEM Notice of Intent to Enforce (NIE) indicated there is, “at least 178 cubic yards of solid waste” including soil material, wood chips and street sweepings, which may contain road salt and chemicals from vehicles.

Street sweepings may not be used as a fill in environmentally sensitive areas.

DEM Public Information Officer Michael Healey said this type of enforcement is geared toward protecting wetlands to improve and protect the state’s water resources.

“Wetlands are highly productive habitats that provide shelter and nursery areas for many species of aquatic and other plants and animals, and are valuable for flood protection,” Healey said.

Department of Public Works Director Don Oullette told Target 12 while there appears to be metal and garbage in the impacted area, in his opinion, most of the matter is not hazardous to the environment.

But he added dumping it near the river violates the law that prevents filling wetlands.

“We’re about 25 feet into the buffer area,” Oullette said. “I hope to reuse some of what we find in there, and save some money on dumping fees”

During a meeting last month, Oullette told the town council the dumping has been going on for “a couple of decades” by municipal departments and residents and that noncompliance with the NIE could bring fines of up to $25,000 a day.

“We have to clean it up,” Oullette said to the town council. “We’re not 100 percent sure what we’ll find there. I won’t know until we get in there and start digging through it.”

Town Manager Ernest Zmyslinski has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The cleanup is expected to begin on Monday.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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