They're worried about habitat fragmentation and other environmental issues
By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
TIVERTON, R.I. — If bookmakers were taking bets, the odds of the local environment losing another round to development would be high.
Best environmental practices are already being ignored when it comes to the construction of a new Twin River casino, according to Karen Augeri Benson, a local environmental attorney. She has noted that a March 6 letter from the town’s engineering firm, Warwick-based Steere Engineering, to the Tiverton Planning Department highlights the project’s threat to flora and fauna.
“This document illustrates how, at the very outset of construction, clearing and grading, Twin River fails to comply with best environmental practices,” Benson wrote in a recent e-mail to ecoRI News. “See the conclusion on page 3, for example. Twin River has disturbed areas outside the permitted zone. They failed to protect trees at the site. They failed to show stone walls accurately on the plans and to appropriately protect the stream crossing.”
Benson said she is concerned about habitat fragmentation, soil erosion and stormwater runoff.
If built, the Tiverton casino would be about a quarter the size of the Twin River Casino in Lincoln. Initial plans are to open with 1,000 slot machines and 32 table games in a gambling hall. The campus would include up to four restaurants, a 3-story hotel and a 2-story parking garage. The Planning Board has approved Twin River-Tiverton LLC’s master plan. However, Twin River is expected to seek a waiver of a master-plan condition at the Planning Board’s scheduled April 4 meeting.
Save Tiverton, a group of local residents concerned about the land-use impacts of the proposed casino, claims the project has “serious environmental deficiencies.” The group, which includes about 40 active members and hundreds of supporters, has asked Twin River to conduct a peer review to address their environmental concerns. The Twin River Management Group has, so far, declined the request. The company commissioned a wildlife survey and assessment, which Burrillville-based Natural Resource Services Inc. completed last year.
Save Tiverton has since hired its own environmental consultant, Pawtucket-based Sage Environmental, to conduct an independent peer review.
Michelle and Roger Belanger have been living in their Stafford Road home since 1990. The backyard of their 6-plus acre property will be 200 feet away from the south side of the casino site, where “the dirty part of the business will be hidden from patrons,” Roger Belanger said.
The Belangers’ backyard features a small pond, trees and fields. Regular visits from deer, coyote, ducks, geese and turkeys could soon be interrupted by truck deliveries. Dumpsters could replace woods as the backdrop.
“That lot is small and tight and the developer insist on putting the casino there,” said Belanger, a Save Tiverton member. “It’s a difficult place to build such a project, but the developer is setting the schedule and carrying the show. And the town is letting them.”
Last week, ecoRI News met with the Belangers and several other Save Tiverton members, including Liz Colbert, Carol Silva and Cameron Ramsay, at a cafe a few miles down Stafford Road from the casino property. They are concerned about environmental damage, traffic impacts, and increased crime and noise. Benson also attended the meeting.
Colbert moved to Tiverton four years ago. She said she wouldn’t have retired here if she knew then a casino was being planned.
Benson, who has been practicing law for 30 years and is representing two neighbors, including the Belangers, and the group, says various issues, such as the provision of water, the disposal of sewer and the historical uses on site, have to be addressed. In December, she first requested a public site walk. She’s still waiting for an answer.
Since vernal pool season is here, she said now is a good time to make site observations to gauge whether ephemeral flora and fauna, such as salamanders, will be impacted by the construction and operation of the casino.
“They keep pushing the request off and delaying it,” Benson said. “More public participation and transparency are needed. We don’t have enough information. We don’t know anymore now than we did two years ago.”
The proposed casino and its 1,300 parking spaces would be built in a 48-acre wooded tract in the northern-most portion of town, near the Massachusetts border, off Stafford Road (Route 81). A brook and wetland corridor run directly through the property. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management requires a wetlands alteration plan from the developer that details plans to minimize damage to the oak-forest-and-swamp habitat and shows how stormwater runoff will be managed.
Silva’s property directly abuts the casino site on two sides. She said she’s concerned about impacts on nearby Stafford Pond, a 478-acre reservoir, and on the site’s historical structures such as stone walls and an old quarry.
Twin River has promised that its new casino won’t impact local water supplies and nearby reservoirs that supply water to Tiverton, Portsmouth and Fall River, Mass. Silvia doubts the company’s concerns are real. She claims Twin River used an image of a pond that doesn’t exist, at least locally, in its advertising campaign to show its commitment to protecting the environment.
“The whole thing has been rushed,” said Ramsay, who lives a half-mile from the casino site. “They only cared about the election.”
In the November 2016 election, Tiverton voters approved the casino measure by 366 votes. Statewide, it passed with 55 percent of the vote. Twin River spent about $5 million on its pro-casino campaign. The ballot questions had the support of George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO; Ed Roderick, past president of the Tiverton Town Council; and Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.