Above: Protesters on Division Street in March. Opponents mounted a fierce campaign against the facility.
The action seems to kill the proposed medical waste disposal facility off Division Road
The Department of Environmental Management Tuesday denied a solid waste permit for MedRecycler, a facility proposed for West Warwick just over the East Greenwich line that would have used high heat to dispose of medical waste.
The denial is a victory for those opposed to the facility, including Rep. Justine Caldwell (D-30) and Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-35), whose legislation barring such facilities was signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee late last week. DEM cited the legislation as one of the reasons for its denial.
“I’m glad that DEM correctly found that our law applies to MedRecycler and prohibits this facility,” said Caldwell via email. “Sen. Valverde and I gave 110 percent to this effort, worked tirelessly until the last day of session to get this done, for our constituents and for our state, and I’m grateful for my colleagues who supported it.”
“We knew the proposal to burn medical waste in our community was bad news,” tweeted Valverde. “Application denied! And with the new law passed by me, @Justine4RI, and our colleagues, it can’t go anywhere else in our state.”
MedRecycler leased space at 1600 Division Road in late 2019, in a section of West Warwick bounded by East Greenwich, Route 2 and Route 95. Because of the proposed plant’s proximity to East Greenwich, including the New England Tech (NEIT) campus, a day care, and residential neighborhoods, and because the only access to the property is via East Greenwich, many EG residents and officials were vocal in their opposition.
Town Council member Renu Englehart began questioning the proposed facility in 2019, leading the early effort to thwart it. Once the Town of East Greenwich sued DEM over its approval of a minor source air permit for the project, Englehart – as a town official – stepped back from an active role in the opposition.
“I’m really happy,” Englehart said Tuesday. She noted she had been threatened with a lawsuit from Campanella early on. “I feel really vindicated on that. I had to APRA a lot of documents.… you could tell right off the bat his application was sketchy.”
MedRecycler can appeal the DEM decision; Englehart said she hopes they do not. “I don’t think that belongs anywhere near people. You shouldn’t try to put it in the middle of a neighborhood.”
“Throughout the process we stuck to the facts and justice prevailed,” said EG resident Denise Lopez, who led the local citizen effort against the facility. “Thankful to all the state and local reps who listened to our concerns and took action. The community came together and collectively our voices were heard. It also created awareness at the state level regarding these types of initiatives and the need to take a closer look at projects being proposed going forward.”
Atty. Gen. Peter Neronha also praised DEM’s decision.
“The Department of Environmental Management made the right decision in denying the permit application for the proposed medical waste treatment facility in West Warwick, and I am grateful for their close review of a proposal that would have impacted many Rhode Islanders,” he said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, Nicholas Campanella, chairman and CEO of Sun Pacific Holding Corp. (MedRecycler’s parent company), was not pleased.
“This decision makes it perfectly clear why Rhode Island’s business climate was ranked 46th out of the 50 states earlier today,” he said in a statement. “The company will consider all of its legal options, of which there are many.”
The law, however, was only one reason DEM officials cited in their decision. Among the other problems cited by DEM:
- Incomplete contingency plans and a failure to provide information to the West Warwick and East Greenwich fire departments
- Insufficient testing protocols
- Inadequate financial assurance of closure calculations
- Lack of a demonstrated buffer zone between the facility and adjacent properties (the facility was to be housed in a building that held other businesses)
- Application inconsistencies on the amount of medical waste that would be stored on site prior to treatment
- No detailed procedure for how rejected waste would be handled
- No signature from the owner of the property, who could be at least partly responsible for cleanup of the site upon closure
The letter from DEM makes clear the applicant can fix these deficiencies and reapply (find the full letter here: MedRecycle Denial 07/13/21). For now, however, the proposal appears to be dead. While MedRecycler had gotten “master plan approval” from the Town of West Warwick, it cannot proceed without further municipal approvals which are contingent on DEM permit approvals.
Previous stories on the proposed facility: