That's a Wrap
As we put the wrap on another year of investigations Jim Hummel has new information on a handful of our reports: from a surprise twist involving a controversial asphalt plant in Coventry and progress on the North Providence School Department’s efforts to upgrade its aging buildings - to the D.O.T.’s latest response to our investigation of the Apponaug Circulator project and one more hit for the taxpayers at the Wickford Junction Train Station. The Hummel Report has all of the details.
As we put the wrap on another year of investigations we have new developments on a handful of our reports - beginning with the case of a Coventry neighborhood that’s been living with the fallout of having two asphalt plants next to their property.
The neighbors complained that these two plants - in an industrial park adjacent to their homes - never received formal town approval to expand or to have extended operating hours that many said were ruining their quality of life.
In late 2013 we spoke with Tammy Duxbury, who led one of the citizens groups that had pushed local and state officials to crack down. Fast forward two years and Duxbury now sits on the Town Council, which last week learned from its solicitor that a consent agreement allowing this plant to have extended hours for 30 days a year was never ratified by the town council. Nor was an expansion of the plant after the operator bought it in 2004.
We spoke with the plant owner, Tom Miozzi, for our story and he said at the time he understood the neighbors’ concerns and wanted to move his operation. But finding a place and paying for the move were major obstacles.
At the end of an extended discussion at the last council meeting , Miozzi announced he has found a tentative site and hopes to move out of Coventry over the next six to 12 month. In a later conversation with The Hummel Report, Miozzi said he could not disclose the site publicly yet but was confident the deal would be finalized in the next several weeks.
The residents tell us they’ll believe it when they see the equipment being moved.
Last month our investigation into the Apponaug Circulator project included an interview with DOT Director Peter Alviti - who pledged to follow up on problems we brought up in our report. Now, those results are in.
During a 45-minute interview with the director, we relayed concerns of some Warwick residents about the condition of the circulator, which is undergoing a $30 million upgrade and redesign.
Specifically, we asked Alviti about a portion a trench cut that seemed to have collapsed.
Alviti: ``From that video, there were two areas, one in particular over a gas trench, that I saw about a 10-foot section of that I would be concerned with and that our guys will be charged with going and taking a compaction test, another one, in that specific area.’’
Warwick resident Robert Cote questioned whether crews had properly compacted the trenches.
A department spokesman said last week that retesting showed that the trench was property compacted, but that a water main break likely caused the settlement over time and that the department fixed the problem shortly after we brought it to the director’s attention.
Last week we found that many of the cuts have been dug up again and repaved. The DOT says all of the work we notice had been ``previously scheduled’’
As for the larger issue of code compliance raised in our investigation, a spokesman told us: ``Director Alviti has had additional meetings with project personnel since the interview to ensure that the project not only remains on time and on budget, but also that the contractor is in compliance with all specifications.’’
The project, he added, remains 36 days ahead of schedule.
The North Providence School system continues to refine a $75 million project to deal with its aging school buildings. Now there’s a new development: the department is considering using an existing building right around the corner from Town Hall.
Many of the town’s school buildings are showing their age, and a school department study recommends constructing new elementary schools to replace two 80-year-old buildings and knocking down this one. That is part of a $75 million plan that would need the approval of taxpayers next November.
Since our story ran, this building, the former St. Patrick’s on George Street has come onto the department’s radar screen as a possible replacement for one of the elementary schools. The superintendent tells us the owner has made significant upgrades to the building, which is being leased right now, but the town is seriously considering it as part of the overall plan. The building was constructed in the 1960s. The currently elementary schools: the 1930s.
Meanwhile the department is interviewing for a construction a manager to oversee the overall project in the coming year.
We have called the now-familiar wind turbines on the Providence River: `A You Paid For it - And Got It.’’ Three years after they were installed the turbines continue to pay dividends for the Narragansett Bay Commission.
They have become a staple of the Providence skyline and more often than not, the three huge wind turbines at Fields Point are spinning, which is good news for the ratepayers of the bay commission, which ultimately footed the $13 million installation costs.
The commission tells us that 40 percent of the plant’s electrical needs are now provided by the turbines, saving $1.1 million a year in energy costs. That means the agency has saved enough over the past three years to already have paid off 30 percent of the debt service.
Earlier the DOT announced it was cancelling an expensive maintenance contract with a private company at the Wickford Junction Train Station, something that we we’ve been reporting on for nearly four years. Well we found out just last week, that cancellation comes with a cost.
The station, which opened to huge fanfare and hopeful expectation on ridership has been nothing short of a disaster. And while ridership has increased modestly it’s the largely-empty 1,100-vheicle parking garage that remains a pain in taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
In an effort to reduce those costs, which run upwards of half a million a year, the DOT cancelled its contract with a private company hired to do the maintenance. That company, in turn, sued the state.
The Providence Journal Reported last week that the two sides reached a settlement that calls for the DOT to pay the company $750,000, which wipes out the first two years of savings, but still will save money in the long run.
Two years ago the state stopped charging for parking years ago in an effort to stimulate ridership - a plan that has had mixed results.
So what big stories can we expect in 2016? A lot of that depends on you. The fact is most of our investigations have come from your tips and suggestions. So enjoy the holiday season, then send me your suggestions for next year at Jim@HummelReport.org