Above: The shared building at 1600 Division Road being leased to MedRecycler-RI.
Many say MedRecycler’s plan to use high heat on medical waste is untested, dangerous
So many people tried to attend the Department of Environmental Management’s virtual hearing on MedRecycler-RI’s (MRI’s) solid waste permit Monday that the platform reached its maximum number of attendees at 300 by the start time of 4 p.m., leaving some shut out. All but two of the speakers – MRI’s owner and its chief technology officer – voiced concerns about the proposed facility, which is planned for 1600 Division Road, just over the East Greenwich border in West Warwick.
By far the largest number of speakers at the hearing – which lasted three and a half hours – were from East Greenwich, where several residents and town officials have mobilized against the plan citing safety, environmental and procedural concerns because of its location.
“The building is in West Warwick but everything else about this affects other towns,” said EG Town Councilor Renu Englehart, who lives less than a mile from site. “I would like to point out that even the driveway to this property is in East Greenwich,” she added.
The only access point for the proposed facility is via Division Road and to get to the facility from Route 95, which the owner cited as one of the reasons for locating in West Warwick, trucks would have to travel through Warwick or West Greenwich and then East Greenwich.
East Greenwich officials have been frustrated the town has not been part of the permitting process before now, so much so it sued DEM in Superior Court last year. The judge there ruled against the town, but the two sides are now in mediation.
EG Town Council President Mark Schwager also spoke at the hearing, arguing MedRecycler-RI’s application was deficient.
“We have submitted in writing to DEM, as part of this public comment process, an extensive list of materials not included in this draft application, which should be supplied before this application is in order for public review,” Schwager said. “These materials include emergency response and evacuation plans, spill control plans, contingencies for unexpected facility shutdown, facility safety testing plans, bonding for facility decommissioning and a host of other concerns…. It is premature for DEM to grant a solid waste permit to MRI….”
EG Councilman Mike Donegan, an environmental lawyer who has been the point person on the council for this issue, noted that the technology MRI is proposing to use – pyrolysis, a high-heat melting process – ”is so experimental that it isn’t actually in operation anywhere else in the country.”
DEM has decided pyrolysis qualifies as an “alternative technology,” and that testing for safety will be done after the facility is operational. Donegan said one problem with this approach is the testing results would not be shared beyond MRI and DEM.
EG Assistant Town Solicitor Peter Skwirz addressed the company’s failure to submit a certificate of approval of the proposed site from the state Planning Council – something he said was necessary because while the facility was located in an industrial zone in West Warwick, it sits across the street from a residential zone in East Greenwich.
“The General Assembly created a mechanism for this type of interlocal planning concern. Unfortunately that mechanism has not been followed in this case,” Skwirz said, referring to the lack of a Planning Council certificate.
Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde, who both represent East Greenwich, also spoke out against the proposal, mentioning voluminous anti-MRI correspondence from constituents.
MRI needs DEM and West Warwick Planning Board approvals in order to operate. The West Warwick Planning Board has given the company “master plan” approval but it will still need two more Planning Board approvals, requiring a lot more specificity.
Two West Warwick Town Council members spoke Monday but both said they could not attempt to influence their Planning Board’s decision.
“I want people to know the Town of West Warwick takes this application very, very seriously,” said Councilor John D’Amico. “It’s currently in the hands of our Planning Board…. We have to be very careful…. It would be legally and also ethically irresponsible as councilors to try to impact their decision. But I do want people to know we are listening and we are hearing.”
Councilor Jason Messier echoed D’Amico’s comments, adding that the proposal has not come before the Town Council and that “right now we’re trusting that DEM make the right decision, whatever that is.”
When he spoke, MRI owner Nick Campanella said the types of items MRI would be handling were “materials that all of us generate when we go to the doctor, the hospital, even the vet.” He reiterated that the site is zoned industrial and said, “Safety will be our top priority,” adding, “I guarantee that the project is going to be safe [and] is going to be a good neighbor.”
Four lawyers representing different constituencies – the neighborhood of Signal Ridge in East Greenwich, a preschool next door to 1600 Division, another business located in the building at 1600 Division, and an East Greenwich resident – also spoke against MRI.
Jerry Petros, representing M-F Athletic, which sells track and field equipment and is housed at 1600 Division Road, said the application did not address a DEM buffer zone requirement, saying MRI was supposed to maintain a buffer zone of undeveloped land.
“There is no buffer zone; there’s a half-inch wallboard” between the two companies,” Petros said.
EG resident Katie Silberman expressed a sentiment repeated by several speakers – that this wasn’t a “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) issue.
“This facility does not belong in anyone’s backyard,” she said. “We are not a highway offramp for hazardous waste.”
West Warwick residents Roger Richards and Helene Tay, both opponents of the proposal, expressed their gratitude to East Greenwich for “being so vocal on this issue,” Tay said.
The project could potentially bring a few hundred thousand dollars into West Warwick’s tax coffers, via the tangible property tax. EG’s Mike Donegan, in an interview Tuesday, said that money could be wiped out quickly if there were an industrial accident. He acknowledged EG residents had been far more vocal than West Warwick residents but said that was ultimately for the good.
“East Greenwich is coming to the aid of its residents which is also protecting the residents of West Warwick,” Donegan said.
DEM is accepting written comments about the proposal until April 14. You can submit comments by mail or email: Department of Environmental Management, Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Materials Management, 235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908, attention: Yan Li. Or [email protected].
The Department’s final decision on the application will be made within 90 days after the close of the public comment period, by July 13.
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