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Monday, September 13, 2021

Zoning board rejects appeal by quarry formerly operated by COPAR

Residents Speak Out Against Charlestown Quarry’s Expanded Operation

By ROB SMITH/ecoRI News staff

Frequent blasting, loud industrial trucks, and plenty of distrust were just some of the comments shared by residents during a recent Zoning Board of Review meeting about the proposed expansion of a quarry on Alton Carolina Road.

During the Sept. 7 special meeting, the Zoning Board of Review took public comment that included numerous complaints about the Route 91 operation. The business, Charlestown Farms LLC, was served with a violation notice earlier this summer when town officials found the quarry violated the local zoning code.

The gravel company was engaged in sand washing and processing off-site material without the proper permits and had expanded its operations onto property not zoned for extractive activity, according to town officials.

An attorney for Charlestown Farms appealed the violation during a Sept. 1 special meeting of the Zoning Board of Review. At its most recent meeting, the board voted unanimously, 5-0, to reject the appeal. The business is owned by Thomas Miozzi, who runs a North Kingstown-based paving company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I added the following notes to ecoRI's previous coverage of this controversy. I am running those comments again because they still stand. Charlestown could save itself a lot of grief and expense by enacting a "Bad Actor" ordinance that requires disclosure and review of specified bad actions before it issues a permit, gives a contract or makes a major purchase. Examples of bad actions: criminal offenses by the company or its principals; fraud, price-fixing, environmental, labor, health & safety violations, failure to pay taxes, workers comp fraud, etc.

If Charlestown had a Bad Actor Ordinance, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz would not have allowed COPAR to run this site and would not have issued Town Miozzi a paving contract.

Here are the comments I added in the last article:

During and after the battle against the COPAR Quarry on the Charlestown-Westerly line (2010-2015), I had repeatedly suggested Charlestown adopt a "bad actor" ordinance comparable to the provision in the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) that regulates coal mining. A local bad actor law provides a municipality with the tools to deny permits to companies whose owners have committed any of a range of illegal acts. 

Since it was my idea, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) which controls the town naturally ignored it. In 2013, contrary to all common sense, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz issued a permit to COPAR to take over the Morrone sand and gravel pit. HERE'S A COPY of that license.

Here's the kicker: today, this property causing so much Charlestown heartburn is the exact same property COPAR took over with help from Stankiewicz. It was bought from Morrone by Miozzi in 2019 for $800,000.

But wait, there's more! In 2014, Stankiewicz awarded a construction contract to Miozzi for work on Klondike Road, even though Charlestown DPW Director Alan Arsenault was surprised at the incredibly low bid. I did my own research on Miozzi in 2004 and came up with THIS which I communicated to Stankiewicz. 

Stankiewicz ignored Arsenault's concerns as well as my research and gave Miozzi the contract.

Is it any surprise that Charlestown is once again embroiled in this kind of a fight? It's pretty clear to me that Stankiewicz, the CCA's darling, has no learning curve, that no one pays attention to recent past history or does any sort of due diligence. Does no one remember that this was one of COPAR's sites?

When Miozzi received his business permit from Charlestown to run the old COPAR-Morrone site, did Stankiewicz do any kind of due diligence? Doesn't look like it.

Perhaps this is why the CCA has apparently erased the sordid history of COPAR in its current complaints about Miozzi's operation of the same site.    - Will Collette

Please continue to read the rest of ecoRI's article.

Ann Klumbis has lived along Alton Carolina Road since moving to Charlestown in 1987. They originally lived in Providence, as her husband worked third shift as a Providence police officer. They bought a house outside the city to escape the noise and bustle of city life.

“Now the noise across the street has gotten louder and louder and louder,” she said. She testified that noises from the quarry sometimes went on all night.

Brenda Pater, a lifelong resident of Charlestown, recalled childhood memories when the gravel pit was a smaller, quieter mom-and-pop operation. But the blasting in recent years, she said, has gotten out of hand.

“I have to say I called the Town Hall for the first time in my life about three months ago because I thought we had an earthquake,” she told the board.

The blasting, she claimed, has caused a crack in her foundation where her water pump comes into the house. Pater complained to the town, which referred her to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). DEM referred her to the state’s Explosives Operations Division, also known as the Bomb Squad, where she filled out a report.

But Pater, like many others who spoke during the recent meeting, found the lack of oversight of quarry operations troubling.

“Oversight falls by the wayside,” said Nick Testa, a resident of Alton Carolina Road. “It’s easier for them to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. … They do operate outside of business hours and business days pretty much nonstop. All night, early morning, weekends, holidays, you name it.”

John Winkleman, a quarry neighbor and a coastal engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, said the wetlands disturbed by Charlestown Farms had been historical.

DEM issued Charlestown Farms a citation Aug. 10 for disturbing more than 30,000 square feet of freshwater wetlands. According to the citation, a DEM inspection of the properties last March revealed clear-cutting of trees and shrubs and creating a surface disturbance within the forested wetland.

Charlestown Farms agreed to hire an environmental consultant to address the issue. The business is required to repair the area by October, and DEM assessed a $5,000 administrative penalty.

Other residents emphasized environmental concerns in their remarks. Catherine Gibson has lived on Alton Carolina Road since the end of 1970, and only remembers intermittent trucks going in and out of the quarry.

“It's important in our town that we maintain our balance of environmental health through our wooded areas, our wetlands areas,” she said. “We’re used to being on high alert.”

Locals remain concerned about their well water, with lingering memories of the United Nuclear Corp. (UNC). UNC owned and operated a plant at Wood River Junction, not far from the Charlestown Farms quarry, which processed spent nuclear fuel rods.

“United Nuclear, where [The Nature Conservancy’s] Francis Carter [Preserve] is now, was known for having lagoons that leached into groundwater,” Gibson said.

Rural towns such as Charlestown rely on private well water, not municipal tap, to get water into homes. Residents worry about contamination beyond their control.

“There is a lack of trust in my mind as to going forward with what’s going to be happening there,” Gibson said.

No one spoke in favor of the appeal.

In its final decision, written by chair Raymond Dreczko Jr., the board found Charlestown Farms provided insufficient evidence for appeal, affirming the decision of the town’s building and zoning officer, Joseph Warner.

Representation for Charlestown Farms made no official comment, but legal counsel John Pagliarini stated the previous week the graveling business may take the issue to court.