Protesters Chant "Down with DEM"; Police Called After Confrontation
Island Park residents gathered Saturday afternoon to protest outside the former town landfill.
More than 50 Portsmouth residents, including many from Island Park, rallied Saturday afternoon outside the former town landfill owned by the private company, AP Enterprises.
Some wore hazmat suits and breathed through respirators. Others held up signs and shouted "down with arsenic, down with DEM."
The organizing group for the protest is a newly-created private citizen group called the Island Park Landfill Committee.
Last year, the company received final approvals by the state to recap this land at the corner of Park and Mason Avenues in Island Park. The land is privately owned by AP Enterprises, but was leased to the town in the 1970s.
However, in December, AP Enterprises submitted a request to modify an aspect of a prior DEM approval in order to accept sub-grade capping materials with elevated levels of naturally-occurring arsenic.
The main concern by the Island Park Landfill Committee is an allegation that soils are being dumped at the Island Park location from an out-of-state construction site that may or may not contain high levels of heavy metals and toxins, according to the group.
Gary Hahn of 65 Walnut St., a member of IPLC, testified before the town council that on Feb. 10, he followed a dump truck from the Island Park site to Fairhaven, MA.
At the Fairhaven location, stated Hahn, the dump truck was reloaded with soil from what appeared to be the site of a former gas station. Hahn said he followed the truck back to Island Park, where the dirt was dumped at the former landfill site.
Hahn further said he took five samples of the soil that had been dumped. That sample had been sent out for testing the next day with the results to come back the following week.
Hahn was asked Saturday during the protest about the results of the sample. He deferred the question to Larry Fitzmorris, spokesman for IPLC.
Fitzmorris stated in a telephone interview after the protest that New England Testing Lab of North Providence had tested the Fairhaven soil sample for a cost of $220.
“Arsenic was not detected, he said. "Lead was found to be 3.24 milligrams per kilogram and Benize was 48UG/KG. I’m not a chemist so I can’t give you a definitive answer. We are still trying to sort this all out. The core issue is the arsenic levels at the site are 4ppm. I believe state law requires a limit of 7ppm. DEM wants a waiver to bring in 20 to 40ppm."
The IPLC has hired the law firm McGregor & Associates of Boston to assit them with the issue.
Many members of the IPLC held up signs Saturday and chanted, “Down with the DEM.”
One of those holding up a sign was Joe Barretto, a life-long resident of Island Park. He was concerned about precautions at the site.
“When this soil was in Fairhaven, it had to be covered but now it is not. Why is the DEM not making them cover it. It’s in the air all over on a windy day like this,” he said.
Nick Babbitt was surprised by all of it.
“I’m astounded that anything like this could happen here. Rhode Island has a good history of protecting the environment. I can’t believe people are trying to get away with this,” he said.
“DEM’s job is to protect us. Why aren’t they,” asked Siobhan McDonnell.
Rachel Roberts was more blunt.
“DEM is full of crap. On windy days like this, it’s getting into our lungs,” she said.
Police Called to Rally
But not everyone was there to protest AP Enterprises' request. John McDaid, operator of the blog Hard Deadlines, distributed literature about the site.
McDaid explained his reasoning for his literature on his blog, which can be found by clicking here.
“I’m just here to get the facts out so we can have a conversation based on the facts,” he said.
At one point an emotional protester came nose-to-nose with McDaid during a press interview, at which point McDaid asked for a policeman to be called. The protester withdrew and no arrests were made.
The conversation about this issue will continue at a special Town Council meeting on Monday, March 7, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.