Hummel Report: Year-End Updates

HummelEditor’s Note: As The Hummel Report puts the wrap on another year of investigations, Jim Hummel has new developments on a handful of investigations, beginning with the case of a Coventry neighborhood that’s been living with the fallout of having two asphalt plants next to its property.

Uneasy Coexistence: The neighbors complained that two plants in an industrial park adjacent to their homes never received formal town approval to expand or to have extended operating hours that many said were ruining their quality of life.

In late 2013 we spoke with Tammy Duxbury, who led one of the citizens groups that pushed local and state officials to crack down. Fast forward two years and Duxbury now sits on the town council, which in December learned from its solicitor that a consent agreement allowing one plant to have extended hours for 30 days a year was never ratified by the town council. Nor was an expansion of the plant after the operator bought it in 2004.

We spoke with the plant owner, Tom Miozzi, for our story and he said at the time he understood the neighbors’ concerns and wanted to move his operation. But finding a place and paying for the move were major obstacles.

At the end of an extended discussion at last month’s council meeting, Miozzi announced he found a tentative site and hopes to move out of Coventry over the next six to 12 months. In a later conversation with The Hummel Report, Miozzi said he could not disclose the site publicly yet, but was confident the deal would be finalized in early 2016.

The residents tell us they’ll believe it when they see the equipment being moved.

Who’s Inspecting the Inspectors?: Our investigation into the Apponaug Circulator project in Warwick included an interview with Rhode Island DOT Director Peter Alviti, who pledged to follow up on problems we brought up in our report. Now, those results are in.

During a 45-minute interview with the director, we relayed concerns of some Warwick residents about the condition of the circulator, which is undergoing a $30 million upgrade and redesign. Specifically, we asked Alviti about a portion of a trench cut that seemed to have collapsed.

A department spokesman said last week that retesting showed the trench was properly compacted, but that a water main break likely caused the settlement over time and that the department fixed the problem shortly after we brought it to the director’s attention.

Last month we found that many of the cuts have been dug up again and repaved. The DOT says all of the work we noticed was “previously scheduled.”

As for the larger issue of code compliance raised in our investigation,  a spokesman told us, “Director Alviti has had additional meetings with project personnel since the interview to ensure that the project not only remains on time and on budget, but also that the contractor is in compliance with all specifications.” The project, he added, remains 36 days ahead of schedule.

Sooner or Later: The North Providence School System continues to refine a $75 million project to deal with its aging school buildings. Now there’s a new development: The department is considering using an existing building right around the corner from Town Hall.

Many of the town’s school buildings are showing their age, and a school department study recommends knocking one building down and constructing new elementary schools to replace two 80-year-old buildings. That is part of a $75 million plan that would need taxpayer approval next November.

Since our story ran, the former St. Patrick’s on George Street has come onto the department’s radar screen as a possible replacement for one of the elementary schools. The superintendent tells us the owner has made significant upgrades to the building, which is being leased right now, but the town is seriously considering it as part of the overall plan. The building was constructed in the 1960s. The current elementary schools were constructed in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, the department is interviewing for a constructionmanager to oversee the project in the coming year.

Tale of the Turbines: We have called the now-familiar wind turbines on the Providence River: “You Paid For it — And Got It.” Three years after they were installed, the turbines continue to pay dividends for the Narragansett Bay Commission.

They have become a staple of the Providence skyline and more often than not, the three huge structures at Fields Point are spinning, which is good news for the ratepayers of the bay commission, which ultimately footed the $13 million installation costs.

The commission tells us that 40% of the plant’s electrical needs are now provided by the turbines, saving $1.1 million a year in energy costs. That means the agency has saved enough over the past three years to already have paid off 30% of the debt service.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your tax-deductible contributions. If you have a story idea or want make a donation, go to hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of these stories. You also can mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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