BURRILLVILLE – On a property at 58 Hill Road, dozens of tires are piled beside a dirt driveway. Garbage sits beside old, unregistered campers and cars, along with an oil tank.
Neighbors say that they’ve spent years trying to get someone to clean up the property, a sprawling 11-acre lot that abuts both Chapel Street and Hill Road.
The lot, which was owned by Ralph and Nancy Hopkins prior to a foreclosure in 2013, is home to at least a dozen unregistered cars and broken campers, shown in pictures posted on social media this week. A pond on the property, which neighbors say was man-made, drains into Clear River.
And despite the 2013 foreclosure, neighbors say Ralph Hopkins has been allowed to live there, and remains there to this day.
“We don’t know exactly what they’re burying,” said Leslie Lemieux, who lives on nearby Granite Street.
According to Lemieux and her Round Top Road neighbor Claire Lussier, trucks are constantly entering and exiting the property, and excavating often takes place at night.
Lemieux contacted NRI NOW about the situation this week, and the publication sent an email inquiry to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on Saturday, April 18.
On Monday, April 20 Lemieux said her fiancé received a call about the property for the very first time. She said she and family members first submitted complaints to RIDEM in 2011.
In a response to NRI NOW that same day, RIDEM spokesperson Gail Mastrati said, “This year we’ve received three complaints related to this property and they are still under investigation.”
Mastrati said that no documents regarding the lot could be shared because of the ongoing investigation.
Lemieux says it’s a step forward after years of desperately seeking help. She said that one time, many years ago, either the town or RIDEM forced Hopkins to briefly clean up the property.
“That is when he started burying,” she said.
She says she also brought her concerns to town Building Official Joe Raymond.
“The building inspector has been out here many times. He won’t do anything,” said Lemieux. “He said he’s not the trash police.”
“It’s like he’s protected,” Lemieux said of neighbor Hopkins, who she said has lived there illegally in a camper since the 2013 foreclosure. “It’s been eight years.”
The town’s junk car ordinance prohibits inoperable vehicles from being stored on private property for longer than 45 days, including trailers, equipment and parts. Burrillville’s building department is tasked with promoting standards for existing dwellings, and enforcing adequate and uniform building regulation.
On Monday, NRI NOW asked Raymond if the town had issued any citations on the property and if there had been any complaints from neighbors.
Raymond responded that he was unaware of any town-issued citations and that the only RIDEM action he was aware of was a wetland violation from 1998.
In a follow-up response Wednesday, he said he believed that violation addressed the man-made pond.
“I don’t know exactly what was done at that time, but did contact DEM and they resolved it,” Raymond said. “If there is some new wetland violation, I am not aware of that.”
Raymond said that while he does enforce some town ordinances, junk car issues fall under the jurisdiction of the police department.
Lemieux has also recently brought the issue to Town Councilor Raymond Trinque.
“That place is a real mess,” Trinque told NRI NOW this week. “I’m trying to help them out if I can. My overall opinion is, it looks like hell over there.”
Trinque said he brought the issue to the attention of Town Manager Michael Wood this week, pointing out that new condominiums are being built in the area.
“I think people should be able to do what they want on their land, but within reason,” Trinque said. “There’s somebody that’s spending a lot of money to build those condos, and no one wants to look at that.”
According to town property records, Hopkins purchased the property from New Hope Baptist Church for $10,000 in 1984. He and wife Nancy took out a $206,500 mortgage in 2003, and paid off a previous loan from Washington Trust Company. In 2005, the Hopkins secured another loan of $330,000 and paid off the 2003 mortgage.
A foreclosure deed on the property was filed on May 16, 2013. Records show at the time, Hopkins owed the town $4,067 in car and property taxes, and had also not paid taxes to the Harrisville Fire Department.
In March, Michael Keable purchased the property from U.S. Bank National for $261,000, acting as a trustee. James Gervasio, who appears to have purchased a lien on the lot from the Harrisville Fire District during a tax sale back in 2012, recently filed a foreclosure right to redemption in Superior Court.
But according to Lemieux, Hopkins is still living there. Attempts to reach Hopkins via a published phone number were not immediately successful.
Raymond said he assumes the owner or mortgagor of the property will address the issue through the courts.
“I expect that the people who used to live there and apparently came back even though they don’t own the property anymore will not be there for long and a new owner will address this in time once someone is living there,” Raymond said. “This is typically how many of these issues get resolved.”
For her part, Lemieux is hopeful something will finally happen, pointing to concerns about water safety.
“I’ve been pretty vocal about it because I have grandkids,” she said.
Recently, she said, a fire on the property gave her an asthma attack.
“There’s no way that was just brush,” she said. “It was disgusting.”
The incident brought police out to the Hill Road property and Lemieux said an officer took pictures, and said he will follow up on the issue.
“He was very nice and spent a lot of time here,” she said.
“The whole thing is crazy,” Lemieux said. “This guy is given a free pass.”
Editor’s note: The above article has been edited to add follow-up comments from Building Inspector Joe Raymond.