Material Sand secures agreement for use of town roadways despite neighbor objections

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – A sand and gravel mining business that has operated in town for more than 70 years has resolved at least one element of its long legal battle with the town, signing a new agreement for the use of North Smithfield roadways.

Material Sand & Stone applied for a road use permit for portions of Pound Hill Road and Pine Hill Road, which was approved by the Town Council unanimously following an executive session to discuss ongoing litigation.

While additional hurdles remain for the business, the agreement marks the first step toward resolution of decades-old disputes with the town. And it comes despite objections from some of Material Stone’s neighbors.

“You are all very aware that Material Sand & Stone has been operating illegally for decades,” said abutter Rebecca DeCristofaro. “I really don’t feel it was appropriate to put the cart in front of the horse here tonight and discuss road permitting at this Town Council meeting without rectifying the other major obvious requirements and infractions of this business.”

According to town ordinance, the business has long needed a permit for its ongoing travel on town roadways by trucks weighing more than 35,000 pounds. Town officials have also noted that the business never obtained the required zoning variance for mining on an 89-acre lot by Pine Hill and Old Oxford Roads, where a quarry has been in operation since the late 1950s, when Carmine and Emma Pezza purchased the property. 

But attempts to enforce the town laws have repeatedly failed, with the mining company mounting successful challenges to local authority in state courts. For years, Rhode Island Superior Court orders granted the business, “temporary,” holds on North Smithfield’s enforcement.

That all changed in December, when a judge granted North Smithfield’s request for oversight, ruling that Material Sand & Stone must obtain both the required permit and variance. The decision followed NRI NOW‘s extensive reporting on the issue, and the complaints filed by resident Jason Richer.

The recent actions were a step toward resolution between the parties. According to the new permit, sand and gravel-hauling trucks may travel on the roads Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with “occasional” use on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Sundays only on an emergency basis. Trucks must pull over to allow school buses to pass, and the business must maintain a $100,000 bond to cover any road damage caused by its vehicles.

“The trucks, other than the equipment trailers, carry rock, sand and other earth products and supplies,” noted an application filed by Material Sand President Robert Pezza.

The council’s decision was not well received by neighbors, with several addressing their comments toward Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski.

“You acknowledged that Material’s operations have been overlooked by former administrations,” said DeCristofaro to Zwolenski at the meeting on Monday, March 18. “You have not only not rectified this, you have knowingly ignored the issue.”

“You’ve made it public that you don’t want to put 41 people out of work,” resident Scott Walling told the administrator, adding of Pezza, “he has aggravated 41 residents health and safety – more than 40 – every hour of the day. If they’re not in legal right to do what they’re doing than it shouldn’t be done. I don’t know why we have to allow this.”

Rebecca DeCristofaro speaks before the council.

DeCristofaro asserted that the business is also contaminating an abutting Superfund site and causing air borne silica dust, a known carcinogen.

“With every blast and every windy day you see an amazing cloud of grey dust,” she said. “The town, thankfully, now finally has a leg to stand on in reviewing these activities,” she continued. “It is a serious hazard to public safety. I am begging you to reconsider approving this road permit.”

The opponents recently launched a new Facebook page, dubbed, “North Smithfield Public Health & Safety.”

Town officials confirmed that Material Sand has not yet applied for the required zoning variance.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Paul-
    After reviewing the court documents and other complaints, I believe I have gained a deeper understanding of the situation, allowing me to form a more informed opinion. I strongly believe that the town has a responsibility to uphold its laws and ordinances regarding both operational hours and the nature of activities conducted at the quarry.

    It is concerning that the company has utilized restraining orders to evade the town’s regulatory oversight, preventing them from carrying out their administrative duties. If the company is disregarding time constraints, fines should be imposed, and the town should take decisive action, as expected by its residents. Regular inspections are imperative to ensure compliance with dust mitigation measures and proper drainage to prevent the contamination of groundwater.

    I concur with Mr. Guertin’s stance that a quarry should not be equated with an asphalt plant, and the latter should not be grandfathered in. I am firmly against such an arrangement for various reasons.

    Regarding noise disturbances within the permitted hours, I believe this argument holds little weight. Prospective homeowners have a responsibility to thoroughly research the area before purchasing property. Given the quarry’s longstanding presence, noise should be anticipated, along with the potential for further business development. I find the restriction on the number of trucks permitted to operate during business hours to be excessively burdensome for a business of this nature. According to the court documents, the business in question has been responsible for repairing and maintaining the roads used by their trucks. In my view, this argument lacks merit. Once more, it’s important to emphasize that purchasing a home in the vicinity of a quarry inherently involves accepting certain realities, such as trucking activity and noise associated with quarry operations.

    It appears that some neighbors are advocating for the quarry’s closure due to the area’s residential zoning. These residents may not fully comprehend the potential ramifications of their actions. It’s essential to carefully consider unintended consequences, such as these property owners selling their land to developers who could propose a state-backed, comprehensive affordable or low-income housing development, which could then be mandated for the town. If I were in their shoes, considering how to recover from financial losses due to a forced closure of my business, pursuing such an avenue would be the most feasible option available to me. In my opinion, a quarry under proper management and administrative monitoring, represents a more favorable option in this scenario.

    • The quarry did not have processing equipment in it before 2014. Other than a blast every few months, there WAS NO NOISE emanating from the quarry. I think it is foolish to assume the residents here all moved in after the noise became a nuisance.
      The noise began slowly and sporadically over the years and grew exponentially in the last 4 or 5 years. It wasn’t a problem before, because the processing equipment was not in the quarry before 2014. Check Google earth historical images compare and 2012, (which is before it was sold and lost its nonconforming status) to the following years.
      They have excavated property that they were restricted from quarrying by a denial from Zoning official Bob Benoit. That area should be surveyed, marked off-limits and restored. The denial for Certificate of Compliance was issued to the applying attorney, Tim Robenhymer who just so happens to be the attorney N Smithfield hired to represent the Town against the operator and owner. Conflict of interest anyone? Mr Robenhymer worked with the opposing counsel and for the Pezza’s previously. Was the court made aware of this situation?

  2. STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT
    BUREAU OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE AND INSPECTION
    235 Promenade Street, Suite 220
    Providence, RI 02908-5767

    CERTIFIED MAIL

    POUND HILL REALTY, LLC
    c/o Marc B. Gertsacov, Resident Agent 10 Weybosset Street, Suite 800
    Providence, RI 02903

    Material Sand and Stone Corp.
    c/o Robert Pezza, Registered Agent/President 618 Greenville Road
    North Smithfield, RI 02896

    June 6, 2023

    7022 2410 0002 1302 5812

    7022 2410 0002 1302 5829

    RE: NOTICE OF INTENT TO ENFORCE
    File Name: POUND HILL REALTY, LLC & Material Sand and Stone Corp.
    I Pine Hill Road, North Smithfield, RI
    File No.: OCI-AIR-22-57
    Dear Resident and Registered Agents,

    Enclosed please find a Notice of lntent to Enforce (“NIE”) for a violation of Rhode Island’s Air Pollution Control (“APC”) Regulations, titled “Fugitive Dust” (250-RICR-120-05-5), (“Part 5”) documented during investigation of the above referenced property in the Town of North Smithfield.

    This NIE constitutes DEM’s initial response to the violations alleged in the attached NIE and does not limit or preclude DEM from assessing an administrative penalty pursuant to Rhode Island General Law, Chapter 42-17.6 and the Rhode Island Code of Regulations titled Rules and Regulations for Assessment of Administrative Penalties (250-RICR-130-00-1) for the violations observed to date, or for further violations in the event that you fail to comply with this NIE. Be advised that penalties associated with noncompliance in these matters can be up to $10,000 per day per violation.

    If you have any questions concerning the content of this NIE, please contact me by telephone at (401) 222-1360, extension 2777427, or via e-mail at Shawna.smith@dem.ri.gov.

    Telephone 401.222.1360 IFacsimile 401.222.3811Iwww.dem.ri.gov IRhode Island Relay 711
    Thank you for your attention to this matter.

    Sincerely,
    Shawna Smith
    Environmental Scientist Air Pollution Compliance Program
    DEM, Office of Compliance and Inspection

    Environmental Scientist Air Pollution Compliance Program
    DEM, Office of Compliance and Inspection

    ec: David Chopy, Administrator, Office of Compliance & Inspection, DEM
    Christina Hoefsmit, Deputy Administrator, Office of Compliance & Inspection, DEM Patrick Hogan, Office of Compliance & Inspection, DEM
    Laurie Grandchamp, Administrator, Office of Air Resources, DEM Chris John, Deputy Administrator, Office of Air Resources, DEM Brianna DeAngelis, Office of Compliance & Inspection, DEM Tom Mccusker, EPA, Region 1
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT
    OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE & INSPECTION

    IN RE: POUND HILL REALTY LLC
    Material Sand and Stone Corp.

    FILE NO.: OCI-AIR-22-57

    NOTICE OF INTENT TO ENFORCE
    A. Introduction

    You are hereby notified that the Director of the Department of Environmental Management (the “DEM”) has reasonable grounds to believe that the above-named parties (“Respondents”) have violated certain statutes and/or administrative regulations under OEM’s jurisdiction.
    B. Facts

    (1) The property is located at I Pine Hill Drive in the Town of North Smithfield, Rhode Island, further identified as Tax Assessor as Plat 7, Lot 38 (the “Property”).

    (2) Respondent “POUND HILL REALTY LLC” owns the Property.

    (3) Respondent “Material Sand and Stone Corp.” operates a business engaged in extractive industry activities including the manufacturing of sand, gravel, and stone at the Property (the “Facility”).
    (1) The Property and Facility are sources of air pollutants subject to Rhode Island’s Air Pollution Control (“APC”) Regulations, including, but not limited to Rhode Island Code of Regulations (250-RICR-120-05-5) (“Part 5”), titled “Fugitive Dust”.

    (4) On 8 October 2022, DEM received a complaint alleging fugitive dust was originating from Property/Facility and covering the areas around the Property.
    (5) On 9 November 2022, DEM conducted an investigation in response to the complaint. No dust was observed leaving the Property during the investigation. DEM inspectors proceeded to the Facility’s scale house at the Property and spoke with the operator Earl Connor, who was advised of the complaint and results of the inspection. The operator was provided a copy of Part 5 and advised to comply with all requirements.

    (6) On 3 February 2023, DEM received a new complaint alleging continued fugitive dust originating from the Property/Facility.
    (7) On 15 February 2023, DEM conducted an investigation m response to the complaint. Investigation revealed the following:

    (a) Upon arrival at Old Oxford Road, located north of the Property, a haze of dust was observed in the air, and clouds of dust were observed blowing north from the Property through a forested area and across the road.
    (b) OEM’s inspectors parked the vehicle on Old Oxford Road, north of the Property, and conducted a windshield survey. Within 7 minutes, a light accumulation of fine sandy material including glistening particles was observed on the windshield. A hand swipe of the windshield revealed visible fine sandy material that was gritty with numerous glistening particles.
    (c) Observation of the Property revealed dust blowing off uncovered stockpiles of material, dust blowing off the surface of the ground, and dust being generated from vehicles driving around the Property (dump trucks). A layer of dust was observed coating the leaf litter of the forested area between the Property and Old Oxford Road.
    (d) A water truck was observed on site but was not in use. No other precautions were observed being taken to prevent dust from leaving the Property.
    (e) DEM’s inspectors experienced eye and respiratory irritation from the airborne particulate matter from the Property; gritty particulate matter was detected in their mouths, and particulate matter could be felt on their skin and in their hair, which remained until washed off. OEM’s inspectors had- to cover their faces to avoid breathing in the dust and return to the vehicle.
    (f) OEM’s inspectors proceeded to the Facility’s scale house at the Property. From the scale house, dust was observed being generated by an excavator on site, and dust was observed blowing off material stockpiles and north/northeast toward Old Oxford Road. OEM’s inspectors spoke with the operator, Kevin, and notified him of the violation. DEM’s inspectors were directed to proceed to the Facility’s main office at 618 Greenville Rd., North Smithfield.
    (g) OEM’s inspectors proceeded to the Facility’s main office and notified dispatcher Dennis Woisard that a fugitive dust violation was observed at the Property. Mr. Woisard stated they had a watering truck at the Property but did not operate it in winter. DEM warned Mr. Woisard to follow best industry practices to prevent dust from leaving the Property and provided a copy of Part 5.

    C. Violation

    Based on the foregoing facts, the Director has determined that violations of the following regulations occurred at the Facility:

    (]) APC Regulations Part 5.6 – prohibiting airborne particulate matter/fugitive dust from traveling beyond the property line without taking adequate precautions to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne.
    D. Required Actions

    Based upon the violations alleged above, the following actions are required to comply with the above-referenced statutes or regulations:
    (1) IMMEDIATELY implement necessary corrective actions to prevent airborne particulate matter/fugitive dust from migrating beyond Property’s boundaries.

    (2) Within thirty (30) days of receipt of this NIE, submit a summary to the DEM of corrective actions implemented to prevent the migration f fugitive dust from the Property.

    The NIE constitutes OEM’s initial response to the violations alleged in the NIE and does not limit or otherwise preclude DEM from taking further enforcement action regarding trus or other violations that may be determined. Failure to comply with the requirements of trus NIE may result in the issuance of a formal enforcement action that would likely include administrative penalties, which can be up to $10,000 per day per violation.

    If POUND HILL REALTY LLC or Material Sand and Stone, Crop. have any questions concerning tills NIE, please contact me at (401) 222-1360, extension 277-7427 or at Shawna.smith@dem.ri.gov.

    FOR THE DIRECTOR:
    Sha Principal Enviroruner11:al Scientist
    DEM – Office of Compliance & Inspection

    Date: June 6, 2023

  3. For the 40 neighbors that are affected
    Why don’t you make them tax exempt from all town tax rolls for the remainder of material sand & stone

    • Great idea, NOT! Money saved on taxes can help pay for the silicosis treatment and then the burials of those killed by it. RCS is akin to asbestos. Would you allow asbestos to fall all over your property for tax exemption? I think not…
      The town’s inaction is depriving us of life, liberty, and property (can’t sell without disclosing and disclosing will have buyers running. Our home have no value if we cannot sell) by the government without following the proper legal procedures or principles that have been established to protect these rights. This is a violation of due process. We’ll just add that to the chilling effect the town caused by telling everyone that called to complain since 2006, that their hands were tied when they were not. That is a 1st amendment violation…

  4. The article does not include the fact that the Town council moved the discussion and vote on The proposal from 5th or 6th up to 1st on the agenda following executive session without public notification. Town council maintains they moved it up to accommodate and save costs paying the attending lawyer. Residents did not have an opportunity to address the question until after the road use was approved. This change in agenda was not fair to residents wanting to testify, and probably didn’t follow the intention of the public meeting information requirement.

    • Not to take any side on the issue, but rather to share my knowledge of the situation: moving things on the agenda takes place at nearly every public meeting and does not require notice. It is done frequently to save money when attorneys are involved.
      I will say they could have allowed public comment prior to their vote. I’m not weighing on the decision itself – just notes on the procedure, which was technically legal, but did not allow any advance feedback

      • Thanks for the clarification Sandy. As I mentioned to the council during open forum at the last meeting I think it would seem possible to plan the agenda better in the first place. I told them I thought they would know when the attorneys would be present and plan accordingly. Now it’s possible the Town council acted in good faith trying to show that they were willing to work with material Sand and gravel. The recent judgment in December was clearly in favor of the town’s right to legislate use and permits. If that was not our intention, I think their recent approval gave away a large bargaining chip.

        • I am used to the noise.But these guys are starting to manufacture asphalt without asking there neighbors .Who wants a asphalt plant in there backyard. Ps I lived here 35 years and they just started last year.Who wants that shit in there backyard.

  5. Michaela – you make a fair point, but the longevity of a business should not outweigh the impact it makes on its neighbors’ health, especially if that impact grows more detrimental over time. In this case, it appears as though the impact has grown AND increased investigation has brought to light some serious concerns about how/if the business has been operating legally.

    Like I say, you make a fair point; however, in this case it appears as though the stakes involved make it critical controls are imposed where there were none before. It’s not a matter of neighbors complaining to complain (not that I’m implying that’s what you’re saying!), but a legitimate health and safety issue.

  6. Surely the neighbors in the vicinity were aware of this business’s presence before purchasing property in the area, right?
    While I may not have all the details about this situation, I do know this business has been here throughout my entire life. Personally, I wouldn’t anticipate moving to a location and assuming I could dictate the operations of a business that has been operating for almost double my lifetime, but that’s just my perspective.
    Again, I don’t know the details.

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