Residents cry foul over proposed transfer station expansion

Residents cry foul over proposed transfer station expansion

Fairlawn resident David Ferguson, right, speaks with City Councilor Albert Vitali Jr. about his concerns on rats during a forum Monday on the options for the city’s Grotto Avenue waste transfer station. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET – Fairlawn residents were clear in their message to city officials at a meeting in St. Lukes Church on Weeden Street on Monday: Close the waste transfer station and haul trash straight to the state’s landfill.

The high taxpayer cost of shutting down the Grotto Avenue transfer station shouldn’t outweigh their right to quality of life, said residents, many of whom have lived in this neighborhood for decades and say the rat problem here has never been this bad.

The meeting at times grew tense as some residents battled with members of Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration, four of whom showed up. Public Works Director Eric Earls bore the brunt of their wrath.

Pat St. German, of the Fairlawn Against Crime Team (F.A.C.T.), which organized the forum, laid out the various options now being considered by the City Council, which was also well represented with several members at Monday’s meeting.

Waste Connections Inc. continues to get away with a substandard operation, said St. Germain, and should not be trusted with future operation of an upgraded or replaced transfer station, with a much larger daily capacity, after it “ran (the facility) into the ground.” The burden for operations falls solely on Fairlawn, she said.

She questioned the various cost estimates surrounding what to do with the facility, saying the numbers from the administration can’t be trusted.

St. Germain urged attendees to call their elected officials on this matter, saying she doesn’t believe it’s a done deal. This sort of proposal would never be floated in Oak Hill, Pinecrest or Darlington, she said, and the majority of people don’t understand this issue, she said.

Responding to suggestions from some residents that WCI is the favored contractor here, Earls said the city is going in the “opposite direction” by moving forward with a request for proposals process that will bring other companies in to also submit proposals to run the facility on Grotto Avenue.

“That’s when we would able to vet everybody and go back to square one,” he said.

John McNichols, a 45-year Fairlawn resident, said he recalled back in the day not understanding why anyone would locate a garbage facility in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood. He said the facility of today is responsible for bringing down the area by acting as a feeding ground for rats.

“Everywhere you look in Fairlawn, you see rats,” he said, questioning the continued lack of oversight for truck drivers moving uncovered loads through the neighborhood.

St. Germain said operation of “the monster that’s on Grotto Avenue” is not in keeping with the other positive additions being made to the neighborhood.

Resident Suzanne Cox said she sees a “colossal lack of imagination” on the city’s part in dealing with the transfer station, saying a “massive rat problem” has developed in the surrounding neighborhoods. Not having the facility here would attract more people and businesses to the city and be better its long-term health, she said.

David Ferguson, a 24-year resident, noted the impact of outside trash tonnage, started only seven years ago, on the overall “horrendous” rat problem.

Other concerns again offered Monday include noise, dust, truck traffic, and terrible odors, particularly if the transfer station is allowed to expand.

St. Germain and others expressed concern that Pawtucket will one day become an even greater hub for waste disposal once the state landfill closes, citing the interest of waste-to-rail providers in running the transfer station. The city would truly be known as “the bucket” at that point, they said.

Councilor Tim Rudd said his position hasn’t wavered on the issue of the transfer station, saying it either needs to be shut down and replaced with a direct trash hauling program or the city needs to go back to operating it independently and only for city residents, giving it “the proper oversight that the neighborhood deserves.”

He noted that the council has extended the WCI contract until December and must make a decision on what to do with the facility.