By Mark Schwager
The views expressed are my own and are not an official communication from the Town Council or the Town of East Greenwich.
On July 13th, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) announced its denial of the Medrecycler-RI Inc. application to build a high heat medical waste-to-energy plant at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick, a site adjacent to a residential community, adjoining businesses, day care center, university campus and an adjacent stream and pond.
The persistent, coordinated and effective response by East Greenwich residents and local elected officials played a major role in the DEM denial of the medical waste-to-energy license and the recently passed state legislation that shuts down this project and future similar projects in Rhode Island.
- Town Councilor Renu Englehart sounded an early warning for our town about the adverse impacts of the MedRecycler project on our community starting in 2019. Her concerns focused the EG Town Council on this issue.
- Councilor Michael Donegan, an experienced and knowledgeable environmental lawyer, worked with our town solicitor to develop comprehensive actions to challenge the project at the West Warwick Planning Board, the RIDEM and in Rhode Island Superior Court.
- The town engaged an environmental engineering firm to provide a detailed analysis of the many inconsistencies and deficiencies in the MedRecycler proposal. This information was forwarded to DEM as part of their public hearings on the MedRecycler license. In their decision to deny MedRecycler’s solid waste disposal permit, DEM acknowledged EG’s contribution to their decision. “As outlined by some commenters, particularly the Town of East Greenwich and the Attorney General’s Office, documents and information not provided with the Application significantly impacted the ability of the officials and public in the impacted communities to assess certain issues.”
- East Greenwich town staff attended West Warwick Planning Board hearings on MedRecycler to represent our town’s interests and monitor the West Warwick permitting process.
- East Greenwich residents mobilized to object to the project with signs, rallies, letters and social media outreach. Town resident Denise Lopez, on the Facebook site Keep Kent County Beautiful, kept the community informed, worked with environmental groups, and helped motivate the massive community participation at the DEM Zoom public hearing on the MedRecycler license in March 2021. The Zoom hearing reached its maximum capacity of 400 participants, with many on hold, in the Zoom “waiting room,” for their chance to be heard.
- Our state legislators, Representative Justine Caldwell, and Senator Bridget Valverde, with their commitment to this issue, introduced legislation banning high-heat medical waste disposal plants sited in residential areas. Their determined focus on this bill pushed it over the finish line just days before the General Assembly adjourned for this year.
We are in a good position to have this medical waste-to-energy proposal completely stopped but more work needs to be done. The Town Council, our state representative and senator, and our entire East Greenwich community is prepared to respond if and when MedRecycler challenges the DEM ruling, the new state legislation or submits a new application. Our community’s focus and engagement on this important environmental and health hazard is a positive contribution to the quality of life in East Greenwich, our neighboring communities and the entire state of Rhode Island.
President, East Greenwich Town Council