Storms expose debris from old town landfill

Removing it won’t be easy
Fri, 07/26/2013 - 3:35pm

Years of storms and hurricanes, mixed with natural erosion, have left debris from the old landfill exposed near the ocean and the question now is how to clean it up. The R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has also said it has received complaints about the matter and will review any plans the town may propose to remediate the land.

The debris that is now exposed is varied. Old car parts, painted with years of rust, embed the side of the cliffs. A sewing machine dangles by a wire, getting ready to tumble to the bottom at any moment. An iron radiator sits comfortably submerged in the sand, as the waves brush upon it. Mountains of bottles and plastic lay claim to the beach, which is located at the end of West Beach Road, the same road that the current Transfer Station is located on.

A knocked-down, disfigured fence is the only thing keeping the trash from entering the ocean.

“Our office has received several recent complaints about the exposed waste at the landfill, and we are making plans to send an inspector out there in the coming weeks to investigate/document the current status,” Leo Hellested, a professional engineer at the DEM, said to The Block Island Times on Wednesday.

Chris Littlefield, from The Nature Conservancy, when asked whether the debris had a harmful effect on the environment, said, “I don’t think it could be anything but that.” However, Littlefield also said that while the debris is “nothing like a landfill near an urban center,” he added the land would have to be tested for contaminants. Without that, he said, “you really just don’t know” if any harm is being done.

Littlefield said that the best way to deal with the issue is to have the site remediated, but said it would be expensive.

Kim Gaffett, first warden on the New Shoreham Town Council, agreed.

“The town owns the land, but the landfill is licensed and overseen by the DEM, so anything that happens here needs to get DEM approval,” Gaffett said. She explained that the issue has been discussed at Town Council meetings, but the exposure of landfill had worsened due to the storms of this past year.

“We will definitely be appealing to get any funds we can get, or DEM or state assistance,” Gaffett said. Hellested, in his email, said that grant money would be difficult to come by this year due to “budget constraints.”

Gaffett did say that using volunteers to clean up the debris would not be an option. “This has to be professional. You can’t do a beach cleanup on this. You wouldn’t want to expose volunteers to those hazards,” she said.

In his email, Hellested said, “With respect to closure, the landfill owner/operator (i.e.: the Town) is the entity responsible for properly closing and maintaining the former dump. The role of DEM’s Office of Waste Management is that of the regulator, and we would review and approve the town’s plans to ensure compliance with federal/state closure requirements. The town may be eligible for any federal grants that may be available, although I’m unaware of any currently, given recent budget constraints. The same would apply for state funding. To the extent we can assist the town with their obligations, we would endeavor to do so.”