By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
JOHNSTON, R.I. — Mayor Joseph Polisena closed the landfill-gas power plant July 9 because of persistent odor problems the facility is accused of causing near the Central Landfill. Specifically, Polisena said the odors were emanating directly from the BroadRock Gas Services power plant.
"It’s not coming from the landfill, it’s coming from BroadRock," Polisena said.
Recent photos, taken by town officials, show that the facility is using duct tape and broomsticks to vent the noxious odors, Polisena said. "It’s getting to the point where we are tortured by the odors," he said.
BroadRock officials responded quickly, saying the closure comes as a surprise as the company had been working closely with the town to address odor complaints. None of the odors were coming from the plant, BroadRock officials said. “The only certain outcome from the town’s action is that the community will be deprived of the benefits of BroadRock’s new system,” BroadRock spokesman Bill Fischer said.
Since 2011, BroadRock has been in a contentious relationship with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), the operators of the Central Landfill, because of odor problems and subsequent complaints from residents. The two are in an ongoing legal action. Johnston and Cranston have been pressing both RIRRC and BroadRock to address the odor complaints.
In 2011, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) stepped up monitoring of the odors.
Persistent rain, a clogged vacuum system and construction debris were blamed for contributing to the odors in fall 2011. Once the water receded and repairs were made, the odor complaints dropped off. But complaints have picked up in recent weeks, prompting local officials to cite the plant for odor violations.
"We cited (BroadRock) in May in to clean up their act and they never did," Polisena said. "I don’t think we had any other alternative."
RIRRC executive director Michael OConnell said complaints are growing, but that it's difficult to track accurately all complaints as they are made to neighboring towns, the DEM and RIRRC.
“It’s not an outrageous number like we had in 2011, 2012,” OConnell said. Due to ongoing legal action, OConnell was unable to comment on BroadRock, but said it's difficult to know if and how the company has progressed with improving its underground system of drawing off landfill gases that it burns for fuel.
BroadRock officials said the environment suffers if the system is turned off. “The town’s action in shutting down the new system forces BroadRock to fall back on the old, inefficient flares for gas destruction, which is inconsistent with modern methods for controlling and beneficially using landfill gas,” Fischer said.
A $150 million expansion of the power plant was completed in 2011. The facility has the capacity to generate 40 megawatts of energy.