Hotly debated N.S. water ordinance passes in split vote

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Jason Jarvis speaks before the Town Council.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – After multiple two and three-hour-long meetings at which residents and business owners questioned various elements of a water protection ordinance crafted by the town’s Water Supply Review Committee, the Town Council approved the recommended changes in a split 3-2 vote on Monday, Dec. 18.

Following the latest extensive debate this week, Solicitor David Igliozzi pointed out that for the most part, the new ordinance simply reestablishes previous boundaries to North Smithfield’s Water Supply Overlay District, an area deemed important to protection of the town’s water supply. The district is governed with additional regulations from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, but the map was changed in 2020, exempting certain commercial and industrial lots.

Proponents at the time said the new map would help to make the town more business friendly by removing the added level of scrutiny from certain development projects.

The map change was passed by the Town Council at a time when meeting attendance was limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic and came into question last year, when Central Street business Material Sampling Technology presented an expansion proposal to erect a 23,000-square-foot building in a primarily residential neighborhood. The business, which has done precious metal reclamation on a neighboring lot since 2011, purchased the adjacent land just months after the 2020 change. Wetlands cover around two-thirds of the lot, surrounded by residential land serviced by individual wells, and the property was included in the water protected zone previous to the map changes.

The resulting opposition from neighbors put a spotlight on the changes, leading Councilor Douglas Osier to call for a review of the town’s water protection laws. As a result, the Water Supply Review Committee was formed in December of 2022, and has since consulted with state and federal regulators, as well as environmental experts to draft changes.

The committee also reached out to the local business community, and while all involved agree the meetings overall marked a positive and collaborative process, business owners have still questioned the need for what they see as an added level of bureaucracy.

“We’ve made millions of dollars of investment in this town, and we’ve bought a lot of property,” said Jason Jarvis, owner of Industrial Drive business New England Truck Solutions, admitting he had mixed feelings on the issue. “We plan on bringing a lot more employees into this town, and those are high-paying jobs. Let’s not scare away the next business owner.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, opponents of MST’s proposal, meanwhile, have been among those speaking on behalf of the water committee’s recommended changes, at public hearings held over the last several months. Resident Christian de Rezendes, who lives directly across from the proposal, has noted that if the previous 2020 change had never been made, the project would have been subject to additional RIDEM regulations.

“This potentially compromised our health and safety in the long run,” de Rezendes said in a letter to the council presented this week, saying the 2020 revisions put business interests ahead of residents. “As of a year ago, no one at DEM even knew about this.”

de Rezendes commended the Water Board, describing their work as a, “gift to the town.”

“I could not be more grateful for their efforts and their existence,” stated the letter, read by Committee member Gail Berlinghof in his absence due to Monday’s storm. “I ask you to listen to this research and use it wisely.’

Former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, however, has been an outspoken opponent of the Water Committee’s recommendations.

“This isn’t a science-based perspective,” Ezovski said Monday. “This is a heavy-handed regulatory perspective. We can be proud of it. We can think we’re doing really great things. We’re not. We’re creating barriers for industry.”

But on Monday, Igliozzi pointed out that most discussion of the ordinance has revolved around provisions that existed before the water committee was even formed.

“What’s happened over the last year and a half is a lot of debate,” Igliozzi said, following public testimony on Monday that lasted more than two hours. “99 percent of this document is existing language.”

Osier, chairman of the Water Advisory Committee, has described the new ordinance as a checklist of state requirements, and contended that nothing in it goes beyond what’s already required by RIDEM.

“All of these rules are from DEM,” Osier said this week. “We didn’t come up with them.”

Councilors Claire O’Hara and John Beauregard pointed out one notable exception to the RIDEM regulations however, the requirement that industries hoping to build within the protected district document the direction of groundwater flow.

“It’s going to cost an applicant a ton of money,” Beauregard said. “They’re going to have to start drilling multiple wells. The cost could get astronomical.”

On Monday, Beauregard said he would join in approving the new ordinance if the provision was removed.

Water Committee member Carol Drainville pointed out that the groundwater is a recharge area for the surface water.

“The question is: how safe do we want our water to be?” Drainville said.

In talks with NRI NOW after the meeting, Berlinghof admitted that the groundwater provision exceeds RIDEM requirements. But she notes the property owners building within the district, such as those behind the recent expansion of Route 146 Auto, have simply followed town law. Berlinghof further noted that the provision is not new, but rather existed even prior to the changes in 2020. She also pointed out that in some ways, the new ordinance is less restrictive than the previous, applying exclusively to businesses that deal with hazardous chemicals.

The ordinance was approved in a 3-2 vote with dissent from O’Hara and Beauregard.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. So do the two councilors who disliked the “99 percent of this document is existing language”, not care if the town gets fined or if those businesses get fined from improper disposal of hazardous chemicals? Do they lack the necessary training involved with hazardous chemical compliance, and not understand the importance of said compliance? Times have changed from when they were children when used oil could be poured on to the ground and be good to go, that’s partially how we’ve gotten to this mess in the first place.

    • Where does this say two councilors disliked 99% of the existing language ? Doesn’t it read that, if that one provision about the flow of groundwater being was removed, JB would have voted FOR the proposal ?

      • You read it one way, I read it another way. I compared both articles from here and the VB to form the best possible view point of my response. It seems that taking out that provision would not be the only thing needed for a yes vote from them on the subject at hand.

          • What are you implying? What nonexistent narrative did I fabricate? What truths am I twisting? I’m reading the articles, just like everyone else, and that’s what both articles lead the readers to indicate would happen. I’m also basing my answer on past practice by the two councilors mentioned in the article. There’s also the body language aspect of the meeting that I haven’t even brought up by those members, or the issue of Mr Ezovski declining to be on the committee. So I’m sure I’m not the only one who came to the same conclusion as I have.

      • Correct me if you are not Harry Lippett, but John has no regard for the safety of groundwater in this town…does he not think that surface water permeates the ground? This is the same guy that consistently interjects his belief that solar canopies should be placed over an aquifer…watch the TC/ SC meeting a few weeks ago.. I agree with BM..these are not friends of science, they are believers in de-regulation, no matter the consequence. Thankfully, you have moved on, hopefully, they will too. Already, so many losses for the big three, Gary, Claire and Johnny.
        .

        • Maybe you have been in Florida too long but Gary has not been in office for almost four years. How did he suffer any losses? As for Claire and John, I will take them over the clown show the other three put on twice a month. You and several other people on these pages have a personal issue with John that borders on obsession. Who else would spend the time digging into his business like you did because you disagree with a vote he made? First Clifford with is pension now you with his business. Get a life. And by the way this ordinance will not do a thing to protect the ground water but it will stop businesses from moving into town. But Kim and Paulette voted for it so that’s all that matters.

          • I have to agree that this is not Kevin Mutto. Someone does not like the post on the cliff notes page. I will say this is the same group that created a loophole for there friends to avoid doing the appropriate things related to ground water and when a company not part of the group took advantage of the loophole something needed to be done. This group is all about we want to allow businesses based on the RI motto I know a guy and you must kiss the ring. Clair and John is the clown show just watch the meetings for the faces, under the breath comments, and the baseball cap.

          • Maybe you don’t really pay attention Kevin, but the big three lost huge on the 18,000,000 police station and Gary has been at every meeting the Water Review Board has held, advocating for business interests as opposed to consumer protection…in addition, Gary was the TA that created the new overlay district, which was recently rejected and overturned..I would say two very big losses.

            Oh, and Kevin, I do spend a few months in FL, but continue my NS residency, and pay a great deal of attention to local and national issues.

        • Christmas eve at 9:03pm and you have nothing else better to do but take shots at people? Seriously? No friends, no family, church or even volunteering or something good? This is what you chose to do on Christmas Eve? I genuinely feel bad for how miserable you must be.

          • HL, are you and Kevin the same person? If so, thank you for your kind words, they mean so much. I had a wonderful Christmas Eve celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes and a wonderful Christmas Day in our historic home with family and friends…I so hope that Santa granted your every wish. May you remain happy and healthy in the New Year!

  2. This town is an absolute joke!! Way to drive out business and shift the burden of your tax base to the homeowner. So glad I don’t have to pay taxes in that town anymore. Gets you absolutely nothing.

    Glad to see this, not even elected, board of officials driving more business out.

    See if you can hug a tree and shake out the tax increase forthcoming!!

    What a joke!

    • Glad you have left town so there is more clean water for us. I am sure you are enjoying the polluted water source wherever you are now.

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