Anti-DEM shouting match over dump obscures facts
Last night, the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and AP Enterprise (the project team) came to Portsmouth Town Hall to answer residents' questions about a change to the town dump remediation plan which would allow higher levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the grading soil used under the cap.
DEM was represented by Mark Dennen, Principal Environmental Scientist in the Office of Waste Management. On hand to describe the analysis done to support the soil re-use was Tim O'Connor, a consultant with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB). Representing the developer, AP Enterprise, were Arthur Palmer and attorney Kristen Sherman.
The meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match, with residents of Island Park in full attack mode before the DEM's presentation was even finished. Completely obscured by the rapid escalation of rhetoric (which caused the Portsmouth Police Dept. to show up at 8:17pm) were the simple scientific facts: Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in soil, and the concentrations under discussion are within levels generally regarded as safe.
If you don't believe me, please do some Google-fu on arsenic at 20 parts per million (ppm). I was concerned too, before Dennen sent me the full Beneficial Use Determination (BUD). I'm continuing to look into this, and would be happy to hear from anyone with reliable data. We should be having this discussion based on facts.
But facts didn't stop PCC President Larry Fitzmorris, who took to the microphone to claim that there would be a "flow of arsenic off this property," or Tailgunner Gleason, who put in a turn in her new role as citizen activist, or several of the same loud NIMBY voices from the Island Park anti-skatepark contingent who believe, apparently, that public discourse is best conducted in a register of spittle-flecked invective. (I think that technique was in one of the lost chapters of Aristotle's Rhetoric...)
If you want to see how bad it got, Portsmouth Patch has good coverage and videos.
At root, there seemed to be four basic principles underlying the FUD bellowing:
- Don't investigate or believe the science
- Fear the DEM
- Believe everything is a plot
- Suspect that DEM and the Council are colluding with developers
Particularly interesting was that several speakers managed to work in specific references to Town Administrator Bob Driscoll, implying that he was to blame. Driscoll is a favorite target of the PCC fringe, and I can anticipate this situation being trotted out when his contract comes up for renewal.
To those in the PCC and their fellow travelers who are stirring the pot for political gain, please consider the impact on our community. Are you really concerned for the health and safety of Island Park? Or could it be that some in the PCC believe it might actually be a good thing if AP Enterprise backed out and left the town with a million-dollar cleanup? Hey, I can play the "everything is a plot" game too. The PCC saddled the schools with a million dollar deficit next year by shooting down the referendum; a giant brownfield cleanup bill would be a another peachy "starve the beast" stratagem.
In all seriousness. Did the DEM shoot themselves in the foot by only advertising this in the ProJo? Absolutely. Could they have done a better job at communicating more information earlier in the process? You bet.
Do me a personal favor as a resident of Island Park. Please, everyone, before you decide to amp up the rhetoric, read the full documentation on the BUD.