Solution to Rhode Island quarry issue: let town buy the property

Louis Sposato Jr believes there is just one solution to the time-consuming, energy-draining, angst- and legal-bill-producing problem that has diverted Rhode Island’s Westerly town council’s attention for about five years.

He wants the town to buy the quarry land where Copar once operated and Cherenzia Excavation is preparing to commence work, reports the Westerly Sun.

“Copar and that property have been an albatross. The only way we’re going to stop that and be sure we can prevent quarrying there is we buy the property,” Sposato said during a recent interview.

Sposato first floated the idea before his fellow town councilors during their April 18 meeting. Council President James Silvestri told the Sun he plans to put the idea on an upcoming agenda for discussion. George Comolli, whose family owns the property, said the family “would entertain a reasonable offer from the town.”

The council, the company, and two couples engaged in a long-running legal battle involving the quarry, approved a settlement agreement in March. The agreement permits continued use of the 108-acre property for quarrying but imposes limitations on some practices and was intended to make it easier for the town to regulate operations. Sposato and his fellow councilors approved the agreement unanimously. The agreement replaced an earlier consent order that limited the town’s ability to enforce zoning regulations on the property.

“The new agreement is much better than what we had before…it gives the town more control, but there will still be blasting and dust. I think the company will live up to the terms of the agreement but there will still be dust,” Sposato said.

During the interview, Sposato said the town should seek assistance from the state and the town of Charlestown, Rhode Island, whose residents frequently complain of problems caused by the quarry.

State Sen Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said he would work with the Town Council to determine whether state funds could be applied to the potential cost of the property.

“Certainly if the town intends to pursue that avenue I would assist in any way I can,” Algiere said.

Silvestri called Sposato’s idea “worth exploring” but said officials would have to determine the cost of the property as well as the expense involved with returning it to a safe condition if quarry operations cease.

The property could be used as a park or for walking and hiking trails or the town could explore retaining it for commercial office, research and technology uses, Silvestri said.

Purchasing the property would likely require approval by voters in a referendum, Silvestri said. “I think people might support it. It’s an option. I think we would be foolish if we didn’t explore it,” Silvestri said.

Comolli declined to estimate the value of the property, saying a real estate appraiser would be required to establish the value of the land as well as the value of the stone it produces through quarrying.

In the meantime, Comolli said Westerly Granite Co Inc, the family-owned company that owns the quarry property, has entered into a new business relationship with Cherenzia Excavation, which will soon commence quarrying activities on the site.

Cherenzia was originally hired in September to perform a watering protocol and to devise a plan for getting rid of large piles of stone dust left behind by Copar and its successor, Armetta LLC. Cherenzia is continuing to address the remaining stone dust piles and recently installed a wash plant in an effort to control the spread of dust.

Informed that several Charlestown residents complained of continued problems with dust on April 18, Comolli said his company has not been notified of any problems recently.

“Everything will be watered. There will be no residual stone dust. They are going to operate the right way, which didn’t happen before because the previous tenant was not willing or able,” Comolli said.

Thomas Liguori Jr, Cherenzia Companies’ house counsel, confirmed his company has entered into a three-year lease with Westerly Granite Co. Inc. with an option “to continue beyond that for a short time,” but added the company would not object to the town purchasing the Comollis’ land.

“In no way would we want to stand in the way of the town acquiring that property. We would have no issue with that,” Liguori said.

Cherenzia will be working the property for large stone segments, sometimes called jetty stone, used for the construction of sea walls, a market Liguori said is significant along the East Coast following Superstorm Sandy. Smaller stone produced as a residual of the jetty stone operation might also be processed with a stone crusher, Liguori said.

Cherenzia’s operation in Bradford will differ from Copar’s and Armetta’s, Liguori said.

Cherenzia, in keeping with Westerly Granite’s new agreement with the town, will limit the depth of blasts and use less powerful explosives.

Efforts to wash and remove the stone dust piles are continuing. The town’s agreement with Westerly Granite requires the company to engage in “reasonable” efforts to remove the piles within 18 months.

“It’s a task. I’m not sure it can be done within 18 months,” Liguori said.

The stone dust piles are believed to be the source of dust that neighbors of the quarry say has dropped onto their homes for years. “We’re doing the protocol of watering the piles but there will not be complete relief until all of the stuff is washed,” Liguori said.

Water from one of the quarry holes is being used on an experimental basis as a source for conducting the watering protocol.

Liguori said the system is being monitored by the state Department of Environmental Management to determine the effect of the system on water supplies. The accumulated water in the hole, which Liguori said is a mixture of groundwater and rainwater, is designated as a wetlands by DEM.

“The idea is this method could lead to a more formal application to use for the long term as long as there is no adverse impact,” Liguori said.

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