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An Uneasy Coexistence

Dozens of people living next to two asphalt plants in Coventry have had enough of the noise and odor - saying the town dropped the ball when it allowed an expansion of the businesses over the past decade. This week Jim Hummel sits down with some of the neighbors, hears the town council president weigh in, and gets a tour from one of the plant owners.

 

Click HERE for additional interview footage with Town Council President Gary Cote.

SCRIPT:

These are some of the sounds people living in neighborhoods next to two asphalt plants in Coventry can hear six days a week, eight months out of the year.

The sound of materials being delivered.

Asphalt being mixed.

And trucks hauling the finished product along a narrow residential road dozens of times every day.

Porter: ``It's horrible, it's absolutely horrible.

Charlotte Porter moved here three years ago from Cranston to Westwood Estates -  a development of more than 400 homes. She and her husband arrived after the asphalt plants had finished for the season. Several months later she got a rude awakening - literally.

Porter: ``All of a sudden it was around the end of March, beginning of April and this foul smell came - it was unbelievable. And I'm a window person, I love my windows open. I had to shut my windows, I didn't know what it was. Nobody ever mentioned asphalt plants.''

Hummel: ``You never head that from the real estate agent? You never heard that from the people who lived here.''

Porter: ``No. I would have never moved here.''

These aerial pictures taken last week show how close Porter and her neighbors are to the plants, separated only by a line of trees. Porter, who now has breathing problems, is part of a group that wants to see the plants shut down or relocated - even though they and several other operations have been there for decades. The group says the town allowed the plants to expand and change significantly without getting planning or zoning approval - something the town and one of the owners dispute.

Duxbury: ``There was a gravel pit, sand and gravel, concrete, but there were no operational hot- mix asphalt plants.''

Tammy Duxbury heads up the citizens group, which has 150 members and is growing. Duxbury, who has lived about a mile from the plants for two decades, began noticing a black sticky substance outside her house a couple of years ago. She was not alone.

Bacon: ``The windshields on your car, during the day it would be very sticky - and when it would cool at night it would become very oily, so you couldn't even see out of your windshield. This would be every day, so it was generating overnight, whatever this was.''

Deb Bacon also joined the group, which has pushed the Town Council to hire a testing firm, The company, SAGE Environmental, determined it was, in fact, mold. Bacon has seen the report, but has a hard time squaring that with what she's seen on her own property - and what she saw when the town lost power during Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011.

Bacon: ``No one had any black sticky oily substance, nor did we smell asphalt. The night we got our power back on it was 10:30 at night and all you could smell was asphalt , and then the next morning everything was coated in a black sticky oily substance again.''

The report also cited some the presence of chemicals, but did not determine the levels.

Cote: ``No one has brought any information or facts forward to this council or to the Health Department to show that those chemicals are in that area because of these two asphalt plants.''

Town Council President Gary Cote has taken much of the heat from the citizens group.

Cote: ``If these poor people bought those homes not knowing that there was an industrial zone that close by, then shame on the realtor who sold them that property for not practicing full disclosure. Shame on whoever brought those properties for not doing their due diligence in  knowing what was in the area. that they were buying a home in. Because if I didn't' want to live next to an asphalt plant, I certainly wouldn't buy a home within a half to three-quarters of a mile of an asphalt.''

Hummel: ``Their contention is it was an expansion of operation that in effect bypassed the zoning and planning and the approval by the town. Nobody argues that it was an industrial area all of those years. Their contention is it didn't go through the process any other plant with an expansion or a new business would have...that wasn't in place and it expanded without the proper permitting. What's your reaction to that?''

Cote: ``I'm not sure that's entirely true. I'm not sure that's true at all. Look, let's be honest with each other. I think the issue is they want the two asphalt manufacturing facilities gone.''

Bacon: ``When a business comes into the town you do go before the Planning Board, you go before Town Council. We're trying to find that paper trail with the asphalt plants back there and it's very difficult to find. We were told there was a flood and all of the documents are destroyed. Somehow it grew back there. I don't know how. I don't remember reading anything in the paper about it. I don't remember....I never got anything in the mail suggesting that there was going to be an asphalt plant in my back yard, nothing.''

Miozzi: ``What we have is a situation here, which is very unfavorable for both parties and unfair to both parties, is we have a heavy industrial zone buffered by a residential zone.''

Tom Miozzi bought one of the two asphalt plants in 2004. He gave us a tour last week, talking about the efforts he's made to help reduce the effects his operation has had on the surrounding neighborhood. Miozzi has reduced the temperature of the asphalt mix from 325 degrees, to about 295, which helps prevent boiling off of some of the oil. That in turn reduces the blue smoke and odor some residents have complained about.

The plant is allowed to operate weekdays 7 a.m to 7 p.m, until 5 on Saturdays and is closed Sunday.

Miozzi often mixes his asphalt the night before and stores it in these two huge silos - added since he bought the operation . They each hold eight, 25-ton truckloads of asphalt. Miozzi estimates he's spent more than $2 million to improve the plant.

He says he sympathizes with the neighbors' complaints, to a point.

Miozzi: ``There are some that are definitely justified - others when they file a complaint and the wind direction is in the complete opposite direction of the residents, I feel some of them may be fraudulent''

Hummel: ``Where is DEM in all of this?''

Duxbury: ``Nowhere - DEM comes down, they say they don't smell anything, the noise is not their issue, it's the odor, they have not ruled on whether or not the odor - they don't seem to  see that the odor permeates beyond the property. Whenever they come down here it's four hours after the complaints are filed or on days that we haven't had any complaints filed and they don't smell the odor.  DEM points to the town the town points to DEM and in the middle of this are the residents and the people live there that are trying to address the quality of life.''

Hummel: ``What would you say to that argument: Hey, they're grandfathered, they've been here, you knew it when you moved in, maybe you didn't but that's not our problem. How do you react to that?''

Bacon: ``I did know there was some sort of an industrial park back there. And when I did my research, when I did move to the area nine years ago it appeared that it was only Consolidated Concrete back there and it was a very small operation.''

Cote: ``We've tried to be as accommodating as we can without restricting a business that has a right to do business within the town of Coventry. They're all licensed, they're all insured, operate under same guidelines as everybody else does. This council has not made a habit of chasing any business, any business out of the town of Coventry.''

Miozzi says he'd be willing to move, and suggests the town should have a long-term plan to relocate the other operations here as well. But it will come at a cost: He estimates a million dollars for his plant alone.

Miozzi: ``Find us another home where we're surrounded by commercial or light industrial.  I think we should solve the problem one piece at a time.''

Duxbury: ``Our organization wants to see them relocated and we wanted to see that industrial park rezoned and our hope is to have it rezoned to open space. Those asphalt plants and any industrial businesses down there simply does not belong there.''

Hummel: ``There's no co-existence in your mind?''

Duxbury: ``No coexistence.''

Bacon: ``I lived in Warwick and I lived right next to the airport - we left Warwick to come to Coventry to get away from the air pollution. And apparently I've jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I should have stayed in Warwick, I knew what I was dealing with there.''

Cote: ``If you will give us something to work with. Something. Get us a violation from DEM on a health issue. Get us a... we will act on it. The council is not shirking its responsibilities. We will act on it, but you can't sanction somebody who hasn't done anything wrong yet.''

Porter: ``I thought I was have a heart attached. I had open heart surgery four years ago and I thought I was having pain in my chest from my heart again and it was very scary. Come to find out it was my lungs. I have now been diagnosed with COPD and asthma, just like the rest of my neighbors.''

Bacon: ``We know the short-term effects, we know the headaches, the bloody noses, the trouble breathing. What are the long term effects? What have I exposed my family to? What have I exposed my children t?''

In Coventry, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.