A Better Place
Over the past six weeks the owner of a controversial asphalt plant made good on a years-long pledge to move his operation away from a residential neighborhood in Coventry. The Hummel Report, which first reported on the situation in late 2013, has followed the dismantling and moving of an entire plant 14 miles south to a new location. This week Jim Hummel sits down with the owner, who said continuing battles with neighbors and town officials finally made the decision to leave an easy one.
Click here to see our original report in 2013.
It is a sight - and sound - that people living in one Coventry neighborhood thought they would never see or hear: the dismantling of a decade-old asphalt plant that had been the source of controversy and friction between its owner, the neighbors and at times town officials.
Over the past six weeks Tom Miozzi made good on a pledge when we spoke with him more than three years ago - to move his plant out of town and away from dozens of people who had complained about noise and particles drifting over to their homes.
Miozzi: ``You come to a moral decision where, how many people am I keeping awake at night? How am I affecting their lives? Could I find another location that would benefit the people, benefit myself, so I worked diligently toward solution.’’
Miozzi, who has worked in the paving business since the early 1980s bought this plant on Airport Road, a mile from Route 3, in 2004, saying it was the only asphalt operation for sale in Rhode Island at the time. For years he had been buying asphalt from others and wanted to manufacture his own product.
He made upgrades to the plant but almost immediately starting getting complaints from a nearby housing development.
The uneasy coexistence became worse when in 2009 President Obama’s stimulus bill went through calling for a huge increase of shovel-ready paving projects.
Miozzi: ``We kept everybody awake at night. No choice of mine, it’s mandated by the state’s Traffic Management Plan, known as a TMP. We had to pave at night, so when you pave at night you have to make asphalt at night. And I can definitely side with the neighbors who unfortunately were sold lots that abutted us. They were looking for peace and quiet, we couldn’t give them that.’’
Opponents also claimed he expanded the plant without permission. The town and Miozzi wound up in court, where a judge reached a consent agreement prescribing a compromise on hours of operation. But the council at the time never signed it, only the solicitor and last year the agreement was declared invalid when that came to light.
Miozzi: ``That was the nail in the coffin for us at the site.’’
Hummel: ``You knew you wouldn’t be able to operate…’’
Hummel: ``…under those conditions.’’
Miozzi: ``Right. All of last year we didn’t operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., which is what the ordinance they passed states.
Miozzi had been looking the past several years to move - but finding a new location proved challenging. One possible site in Exeter fell through.
He eventually found this parcel at Quonset, which welcomed him with open arms and a streamlined permitting process: 10 acres, instead of six in Coventry and natural gas instead of oil, which will save him $160,000 a year in energy use alone.
Miozzi: ``I was constantly looking, looking, looking. And we needed a place where I wouldn’t run into the same issues.’’
Hummel: ``What is the advantage of Quonset?’’
Miozzi: ``Directly highway access, no residential abutters, natural gas, 24 hours of operation. I’m the quietest guy in the neighborhood there.’’
Over the past several weeks we watched as Miozzi and his crew disassembled the massive components to the old plant, put them on flatbed trucks and drove them - very slowly - 14 miles south to Quonset. Each trip took the better part of an hour down the back roads from Coventry to North Kingstown.
On the first Saturday of January Miozzi’s crew was heading into the homestretch, taking down the second big silo when it began snowing in earnest. By the end of the day 10 plus inches had fallen in Coventry.
Hummel: ``What were you thinking Saturday as the snow’s beginning to fall, it’s getting colder, your guys are out there. What are you thinking: it’s a race against the clock?’’
Miozzi: ``Can’t race.’’
Hummel: ``Can’t race.’’
Miozzi: ``We move slow, if we were to hurry that’s when tragedy would strike. I said to myself `’m glad it’s snow not rain’ and we just kept working in the snow.’’
This is what the new site looked like on Tuesday: Silos and equipment reassembled.
Looking back Miozzi said the Coventry plant’s proximity to the neighborhood was a big problem, but adds some of the houses were built after he had begun operations here in 2004.
Miozzi: ``If you were to look at it, looked like it was the element of a light bulb and the shell of the light bulb would be residential properties. We had to drive in through a school zone that just acquired sidewalks this year. So the whole time my trucks are coming in and out there’s a fear of, God forbid, a child gets hurt, injured, or even worse. So the whole time you’re thinking we can’t get out of here soon enough. Most towns, if they’re planning for the future, would buffer heavy industrial zone with a light industrial zone with a commercial zone, then a residential zone. And that’s not the case here. They buffered the industrial park with residential property.’’
Miozzi says he will be done in plenty of time for the start of the next paving season in a few months. He has gotten to build a plant from scratch, instead of trying to fit a circle into a square in Coventry.
He will also be able to run the plant 24 hours a day. In Coventry he couldn’t fire it up until 7 a.m.
Miozzi: ``Instead of the trucks leaving at 7 o’clock to sit in rush hour traffic, they can be sitting in the southeastern Mass area by 7 on the job, loaded with mix.’’
And the past couple of years, Miozzi said, have brought added challenges from the town of Coventry.
Miozzi: ``Every day I would go to work for the last two years the police would greet us at the gate with squad cars. They would drive in the property, they would drive out.’’
Just to make sure he wasn’t starting before 7 a.m.
The price for Coventry to see Miozzi leave: just shy of $140,000 in tax revenue. And Miozzi says he will spend $800,000 on moving costs. He won’t miss the contentious meetings with dozens of people showing up in opposition to his business.
Hummel: ``When you went to those meetings what went through your mind hearing all that?’’
Miozzi: ``Definitely sympathize with the people. In my mind I was already working for a solution. I found out that you don’t need to be in love with a piece of land, you need to be in love with who you are and when you go to work, where you work or your environment. You need to be in love with the environment that you spend most of your….we spend most of our lives at work in this country, we work over 2000 hours a year as Americans. Do you want to wake up 30 years from now and say: I saved ¾ of a million dollars, and I’ll go back to the savings, but I hated every date I went to work.’’
In Coventry - and Quonset - Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.