Recycling Business Allowed in No-Recycling Zone

Construction debris recycler TLA/Pond View is still open even after the city of East Providence and the state have tried to close it. Now another recycling-like business is operating in Rumford and residents aren’t happy. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Construction debris recycler TLA/Pond View is still open even after the city of East Providence and the state have tried to close it. Now another recycling-like business is operating in Rumford and residents aren’t happy. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

East Providence officials and company owner say the business 'upcycles' used mattresses, even though the company is named Mattress Express Recyclers

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Many Rumford residents are fed up with businesses they claim are polluting their neighborhood. Efforts to close TLA/Pond View, a recycler of construction debris, are in a third year and the facility is still operating.

Now another recycling business has residents fuming. This time the operation processes old mattresses, but don’t call Mattress Express Recyclers LLC a recycling company. According to the owner and the company’s attorney, the business upcycles the mattresses and box springs by dismantling them and selling the raw material — wood, metal and foam — on the open market.

Cathy Goulin, left, owner of Express Mattress Recyclers, and Preston Halperin, owner of the building on Bourne Avenue, spoke at a recent public hearing, saying the company doesn’t recycle. It's operating in a special business district that prohibits recycling businesses.

Cathy Goulin, left, owner of Express Mattress Recyclers, and Preston Halperin, owner of the building on Bourne Avenue, spoke at a recent public hearing, saying the company doesn’t recycle. It's operating in a special business district that prohibits recycling businesses.

“We are your friend; we are not your enemy,” said Cathy Goulin, owner of Mattress Express, during a Nov. 2 public hearing at City Hall. “We are cleaning up the environment. Anyone concerned about the environment has to be in favor of what we do.”

Semantics are important because recycling isn’t allowed in the city’s waterfront district. Last spring, when the company applied for a permit, the city’s zoning official, Edward Pimentel, determined that the Bourne Avenue business was a recycler, an operation not allowed in the special business district. The Waterfront Commission, however, decided that the company wasn’t technically recycling so it allowed the business to stay open.

Regardless of its classification, residents don’t like that Mattress Express creates extra truck traffic. They worry that dust, debris, contaminants and bug defogger is going to pollute the neighborhood and cause illnesses. The mattresses are treated with a chemical defogger while they are transported in a trailer from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) in Johnston to East Providence.

During the recent hearing, Rumford resident Peter Oppenheimer said the mattress business is another example of 25 years of an impotent zoning department.

“They have been snookered and fooled and allowed in businesses that have created health hazards to residents of the city that we live with every day,” he said.

“Upcycling, down-cycling, I just know that we just feel like we have been recycled in our neighborhood,” local resident Corliss Blanchard said.

The owner of the 70,000-square-foot building, Preston Halperin, told the Waterfront Commission Development Special District Commission that he has been cleaning up the business since he bought the building a year and a half ago. Since 2007, two other mattress-dismantling businesses operated from the same location and they left some 30,000 mattresses behind. Halperin, therefore, assumed the business didn’t need a new permit to operate.

“We didn’t go there in the dark of the night and start doing anything,” Halperin said. “We told (city officials) exactly what were willing to do to bring this property back.”

Halperin's attorney, Dylan B. Conley, said a recent traffic study concluded that the business only adds 2.3 truck trips per day to nearby Narragansett Avenue.

The Waterfront District Special Commission agreed that Mattress Express is a permissible business and recommended that it be allowed to stay in business provided it doesn’t expand operations. It also suggested limiting hours and days of operation and prohibited mattress drop-offs from the public.

The Waterfront District Commission is expected to vote on those recommendations at its Nov.  19 meeting.

Some of the conditions may change, however, as rules for the state’s 2013 mattress recycling law are announced next spring. So far, Rhode Island has two mattress dismantling companies: Mattress Express Recyclers and Ace Mattress Recycling, based in West Warwick. RIRRC, a quasi-state agency, says it lacks the space for an operation of its own. The business, said RIRRC's Sarah Reeves, is very labor intensive and offers little financial gain. The new mattress recycling law instead subsidizes independent businesses to the do the work. Funding for the subsidies come from a fee consumers pay when they purchase a new mattress.

As for TLA/Pond View, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the case is in litigation, and DEM is enforcing the law through two separate actions. 

The first action is to revoke TLA/Pond View’s registration to operate a construction and demolition debris processing facility, as the company doesn't have a license from DEM. TLA/Pond View appealed the revocation to DEM’s Administrative Adjudication Division (AAD). The AAD then issued a decision upholding the revocation. The company appealed that decision to state Superior Court, but didn't request a delay in the decision. DEM is conducting weekly inspections of the facility and reports that the company has ceased accepting solid waste and construction and demolition debris. The company has been continuing to process and remove the solid waste and debris that is already on the property.

The second action involves a notice of violation ordering the removal of the waste, which includes a penalty. The company filed an appeal of the notice with the AAD, and the hearing on the appeal is scheduled for later this month.