Portsmouth landfill capping 1/4 done, DEM monitoring finds no soil issues

Grading work at Park and Mason
Grading work at the corner of Park Ave and Mason in Island Park, Portsmouth.

This month, work on Portsmouth's old landfill in Island Park has reportedly reached the one-quarter completion mark, and recent tests of soil deliveries have shown no unacceptable levels of contaminants, according to sources at the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and a spokesperson for the contractor.

The area along Park Ave between Boyd's Lane and Mason Ave has been fairly busy over the last month, with dump trucks bringing in soil several days a week as part of the ongoing effort to cap what was once a town dump, determined by RIDEM to have dangerous levels of contaminants.

The owner of the property, AP Enterprise, is working with Massachusetts remediation firm Site Restoration Technologies to execute the plan in the RIDEM-approved Beneficial Use Determination (BUD). According to RIDEM's Mark Dennen, who has been monitoring the process and conducting site inspections, the soil coming in on the trucks has all met appropriate standards.

"The vast majority of the soil brought to the site in the past month is from the Morton School Project in Fall River," Dennen said in an e-mail exchange. "This soil was tested by a third party for the full suite of contaminants; TPH, VOCs, SVOCs, PCBs and metals." (View results here.) Some additional soil came from a bridge project in Pawtucket, Dennen said, and he provided a link to those testing results as well.

Dennen also sent the most recent site report from a visit last month, as well as the results of an independent sample he took during the visit, which also showed acceptable levels of both arsenic and lead. The report shows that the arsenic level was 2.6 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) which is less than half the residential limit of 7mg/kg, and lead came in at 15mg/kg, which is one-tenth the residential standard.

David Peter, a principal at Site Restoration Technologies, provided details on the project status in a phone interview. "It's about 25% done," said Peter, explaining that between 40 and 50 thousand tons of soil had already been brought in to the site. Peter said that they were "hoping to have it done this year," but that a variety of factors were slowing things down — notably, the impact of the recession on the construction industry (which would generate fill) and the inability to use the Sakonnet River Bridge. "We would probably be done by now if the Sakonnet River Bridge was done."

Peter said they had prioritized work to cap the southeast corner of the site, near the intersection of Park Ave and Mason — which is a school bus stop. "We are using our heads," he said. "That's the area of greatest potential impact." The plan, he said, was to get that section graded, capped with the required two feet of residential-grade fill, and planted with grass seed. "When people go to the beach, we don't want it to look like a construction site."

Editorial note: I have read all the questions raised with RIDEM by Larry Fitzmorris and Tom Casselman, and in addition to their puzzling charting style (numbers increase to the RIGHT on the X-axis, guys) and their questionable command of English (what, exactly, is an "expediential" relationship between two variables?) I find their arguments weak. I live just a couple of blocks from this site, so our family has skin in the game. Show me some data that says I should be worried, and I'm willing to be convinced. But in the meantime, I would like to ask our elected officials to stop pandering to opponents of this project.