Residents, officials taken by surprise as building comes down at former Nike missile site in N.S.

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Demolition of a structure on the Army National Guard site on Pound Hill Road is moving fast in a project that took both neighbors – and town officials – by surprise this week.

Residents first report seeing construction vehicles at the site at 1189 Pound Hill Road on Monday, April 11. When NRI NOW arrived late Wednesday morning, at least one structure had already been reduced to rubble.

No permits for the work have been filed with the town’s building and zoning department, and Zoning Official Lawrence Enright said he first learned of the project while by driving by Wednesday afternoon. Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski and Town Council President John Beauregard were also unaware of the construction.

Enright noted that since the property is owned by the federal government, it likely falls outside the town’s jurisdiction.

But local officials did question why no one in town was warned of the upcoming work.

“One would expect that the federal government would notify their host communities with any plans to demolish existing structures,” Zwolenski said this week.

The property’s history – as a place where environmental contaminants were once stored and dumped – made the issue all the more relevant.

One of two lots in the area owned by divisions of the U.S. Government, the Pound Hill Road property held a Nike Missile launcher site in the 1950s. According to The Military Standard, “In 1955, North Smithfieid PR-99’s general plan and a layout for both Launch and Control areas were completed by the Crandall Engineering Company.”

Military operations also occupied a second property nearby on Old Oxford Road, with the two lots holding the launch area and support facilities, including a motor pool, generator building and housing for military personnel and their families.

The site was turned over to the National Guard in 1963 and in recent years, has been home to the 282nd Combat Communications Squadron.

A 1981 report by the U.S. Toxic & Hazardous Materials Agency notes that the Army was asked to investigate allegations that canisters of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, or UDMH, a missile starter fuel for the Nike-Ajax system, were buried at one or more of the five former Nike launcher sites in Rhode Island – including the property on Pound Hill Road.

“Three canisters containing liquid were found at North Smithfield and incinerated onsite,” the report notes.

Meanwhile, on Old Oxford Road, tests found chlorinated solvents in nearby groundwater in the 1990s, leading to installation of monitoring wells.

“The most common liquids disposed of onsite were solvents used in maintenance operations. These were routinely dumped into sumps where they soaked into the ground. Fuel components were also sometimes disposed of in this manner, but to a more limited extent,” notes a history overview of Nike launch sites across the country from 1984.

In 2012, officials determined that well sampling results were sufficiently below the maximum standard, and the monitoring program for the Old Oxford Road site was closed out.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists that Old Oxford Road site as the “Nike Control Area,” in the Superfund database, and the Pound Hill Road site as the “Nike launcher area,” but neither is currently on the National Priority List for mitigation.

One area resident contacted NRI NOW this week seeking information regarding the work, noting it seemed to be moving along quickly.

Former Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton is among those who live in the area, and notes she was startled by the sound of demolition while hanging her laundry.

“I really don’t know anything about it,” she said, noting the loud work at the nearby property caused her to close doors and windows.

She wasn’t alone in the lack of knowledge. This week, town officials began looking into the project, visiting the site after learning of the demolition. Construction vehicles owned by Vinagro Corporation of Johnston were seen among the rubble from work already well underway.

References to the demolition project do appear in the minutes from a state Facilities Board meeting held last year with members of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, which note that the 282nd squadron plans to relocate to Quonset.

“The ARNG briefed the planned demolition and Pound Hill Road Site in North Smithfield which would not involve divesting the real estate, just razing of the structures,” the minutes note.

NRI NOW also found bidding specs for the project published on constructionjournal.com by the Rhode Island Department of Administration last year. The initial bids consisted of hazardous material testing, abatement and demolition of five buildings on the property.

J.R. Vinagro Corporation won the project submitting a bid of $141,092, but the base bid appears only to cover one building, known as the “readiness center.” And the bid gives a completion date of August 2021.

Army National Guard Spokesman Jared Ricky told NRI NOW that the permit for the project was issued by the State Building Commissioner on March 30, and abatement work was completed by a subcontractor.

“All of the large buildings on the property are being demolished,” Ricky said, noting the group will retain one storage facility, the building at the front of the property and one guard shack.

Joseph Wendelken, public information officer with the Rhode Island Department of Health verified that abatement plans were submitted and approved for buildings 1, 2 and 3, and asbestos was removed prior to demolition.

Ricky said municipalities are typically notified when the National Guard has plans to build a new facility, but not of demolition work. The project, he said, may be completed by the end of this week.

NRI NOW has requested additional information on the demolition from state and federal agencies, and may publish more information if relevant updates are provided.

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