Package of McNamara bills would protect river, wells from contaminants, permit right-of-way recognition

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Rep. Joseph McNamara speaks to the media during a press conference in Warwick Tuesday to announce a package of legislation to improve access to the Pawtuxet River and protect the river environment.


STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) announced a package of legislation that would increase environmental protections around rivers in the state and identify public rights-of-way and water access.

The announcement was made today at a press conference on the banks of the Pawtuxet River in Warwick, where he was joined by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Matthew L. LaMountain (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), who will be sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate, and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who cosponsored McNamara’s legislation in the House.

Last year, Representative McNamara asked the Department of Environmental Management and the Environmental Protection Agency to work together to develop plans to address more frequent flooding of the Pawtuxet River and ways to quickly inform residents of the discovery of soil contaminants.

Of particular concern is an area in Cranston on the banks of the Pawtuxet River that housed the Ciba-Geigy Chemical Company from 1954 to 1986, and is now the subject of an EPA corrective action plan under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

During the 2010 flooding of the Pawtuxet River, adjacent neighborhoods in both Warwick and Cranston were flooded. When the river receded, varying depths of sediment emitting noxious odors were left on neighborhood properties, prompting the Rhode Island Department of Health to recommended wearing N95 masks when removing or shoveling the substance. At the time, Representative McNamara purchased two cases of the masks to hand out to residents in the affected neighborhoods.

This first bill (2023-H 5087) would require the Department of Environmental management to develop a plan for flooding on the Pawtuxet River, specifically at the site of the former Ciba-Geigy, with regard to contaminants leaching into the Pawtuxet River and neighboring wells.

“More frequent flooding due to climate change will have a contributing effect on the threat that this site poses to human health and the environment,” said Representative McNamara. “The 2010 flood was described as a ‘100-year flood.’  Last year, 15 inches of rain fell in a few hours, flooding and closing Interstate 95 in Providence. If this storm had occurred two miles southwest, it would have led to a major flooding event as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.  My concern is that the PCBs and other toxic chemicals that are currently sequestered and capped will permeate the sand and wells located at this site and migrate into the river and its sediment.”

The plan would include notifying the public of the results of any testing that is done on the site, notifying the community if ground water contaminants are detected leaking into the Pawtuxet River, addressing the remediation of contaminants detected in sediment on residential and business properties that minimize the risk to human health and the environment, and using weather models that factor in projected increases in flooding events based upon updated climate data.

The second bill (2023-H 5088) would amend the definition of solid waste to include PVC pipe (polyvinyl chloride resin) that is abandoned, discarded, left lying on the ground or not stored in a covered facility.

The third bill (2023-H 5116) would permit the director of the Department of Environmental Management to recognize and identify public rights-of-way to shoreline and water access over land owned by a private party.

“This legislation is designed to protect pathways and trails that have been historically used as access to waterways by the public,” said Representative McNamara. “It would give the director authority, based on several criteria spelled out in the legislation, to designate rights-of-way to our navigable rivers.”


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