In March 2011, a group of protestors wearing respirators and Tyvek suits surrounded my 11-year-old son on Park Avenue. "If you think the landfill is safe," they said, "maybe we should throw you in there." Although I was just feet away, I couldn't hear this. I was also surrounded by people shouting and waving signs to keep Mario Hilario from interviewing me about scientifically established safe levels of arsenic. This, after a Patch contributor caught a protester on video yelling in my face, prompting a call to the Portsmouth police.
Such is the character of the people opposing the landfill capping work in Island Park: they threaten children and shout down those who try to communicate facts. I have a thick skin, but my son was traumatized.
Over the past year, they lobbed dozens of accusations at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) -- documented on a Web site http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/waste/portsmouthlf.htm -- but none of their paranoid speculations have survived contact with reality.
When you read the DEM responses, you find phrases like, "The characterization that the Department chose between the Commission and Dr. Vanderslice is not accurate," and, "These assumptions are completely inconsistent with the Regulations, the Commission's recommendations or actual site conditions," and, pointedly, "As is frequently the case on meetings about controversial topics, recollections and interpretations about what was said, as well as speculation on the motives of the participants, are frequently at odds. At this point, the Department feels it has reached the point where it should simply be recognized that the commenters' recollection and interpretations of what was said are at odds with the Department's participants."
That last one is about as close as a public official ever gets to telling someone they are flat-out lying.
But the opponents have little choice, because the facts are inconvenient. Batches of soil brought in over the past month were tested -- http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/waste/pdf/pl0212rs.pdf -- and tested again in response to yet another baseless complaint. Levels of arsenic and lead were well below residential limits. http://www.torvex.com/jmcdaid/files/plf fr sampling final report.pdf.
I do not blindly trust developers or government agencies, but when a year of evidence accumulates, the burden of proof has shifted to the opponents. The facts show this project reduces the risk to our neighborhood from an uncapped landfill full of documented contaminants. http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/waste/pdf/ottiano2.pdf
It is time for elected officials to stop pandering to the uninformed and misinformed: This group had a meeting with the governor arranged, had their questions answered personally by the DEM director, and had state legislators representing their point of view at Town Council meetings. Enough.
It's time for our legislators to stick up for the facts and the good of our community. And it's time for them to stick up for my son.