Love Your Mother: September’s environmental news from ecoRI

Toxic Dirt Pile-up at 6-10 Connector Site in Olneyville

The primary developer of the 6-10 Connector highway project, Barletta, must remove a pile of fill and all other soil tainted with hazardous waste within the extensive construction site.

The recent directive came after heavy-equipment operators complained of excessive dust at worksites for the $410 million redevelopment project west of downtown. When pleas for help weren’t addressed by the developer and state agencies, the union for those workers launched its own investigation.

A test paid for by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 57 found the material contained two times the acceptable levels of carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons and four times the acceptable levels of benzo(a)pyrene, another carcinogen.

A union employee followed the dump trucks and monitored radio discussions between drivers to determine that the 6-10 fill material was hauled in from Barletta’s railway transit projects in Pawtucket and Jamaica Plain, Mass.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation said it’s not uncommon or illegal for a contractor to bring material to a site as long as it meets the requirements of the soil management plan.

Barletta must now remove the entire 1,600-square-foot pile next to a ramp for Plainfield Pike, a smaller pile of back fill, and any other hazardous material at the construction site and have it brought to a licensed disposal facility. No additional fill will be allowed at the site from other remediation projects, according to state officials.

Warren Plans Retreat to Higher Ground

As flood water continues to inundate the Market Street neighborhoods of Warren, municipal officials are taking progressive action to protect at-risk homes and businesses.

The town’s new adaptation and improvement plan for the Market to Metacom commercial corridor would holistically address climate-change challenges while promoting economic development. 

It proposes to buy vulnerable, flood-prone properties and relocate the displaced to a redeveloped corridor, where a setting of retail, restaurants and mixed-income housing would offer safety out of the floodplain.

Town manager Kate Michaud said this new central business district would create a permanent home for those who are displaced.

“Warren is the smallest town in the smallest county in the smallest state. Twenty-five percent is water already, and the average elevation is seven feet. So potentially in 50 years, two-thirds of our town could be underwater,” said Bob Rulli, the town’s director of planning and community development. “I don’t say that to scare people. It’s just reality, and it’s something we need to plan for. … I’m trying to be proactive.”

When You Can’t Just Cut the Cable

Keeping portions of the cable buried at Block Island’s popular Crescent Beach to the north of Fred Benson Town Beach has been a struggle since the cable was laid four years ago. The re-do project to bury it will be paid for in part by ratepayers.

National Grid and Deepwater Wind, now Ørsted, were given a break by Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council when the agency, over objections from in-house staff, granted the use of a cost-saving method for burying the Block Island Wind Farm power cables at the New Shoreham beach. Both companies now likely regret that decision.

The power line from the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm reaches shore at Fred Benson Town Beach and leaves New Shoreham for Narragansett at Crescent Beach. But keeping portions of the cable buried at Crescent Beach has been a struggle.

National Grid, which owns the high-voltage power line from Block Island to Narragansett, expects to pay $30 million for its share of the reconstruction, which will require horizontal directional drilling. The state’s primary electric utility will recover the expense through an undetermined surcharge on ratepayers’ bills.

Ørsted, owner of the 12-inch transmission cable from the offshore wind facility to Block Island, won’t say how much it expects to spend on the project, but the Denmark-based energy developer intends to make good on its portion of the cost.

Beech Tree Epidemic

A disease that can kill beech trees was discovered in southwest Rhode Island in June, and both American and European beech trees throughout the region are at risk, according to a University of Rhode Island scientist.

“It’s really sad that it’s arrived here because beeches make such beautiful forest trees,” said Heather Faubert, who coordinates the URI Plant Protection Clinic. “Beech forests are stunning, their bark is gorgeous, and in fall their leaves turn a beautiful coppery color.”

Beech leaf disease was first identified in Ohio in 2012, and it spread to Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut before arriving in Rhode Island. The disease damages a tree’s leaves, causing them to fall off. The energy required to regrow leaves stresses the trees, and if it happens several years in a row, the trees could die.

Faubert said the disease is caused by a nematode, a microscopic worm that feeds inside the leaves.

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