By JOANNA DETZ and FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
TIVERTON, R.I. — It took more than four months of pleading, but a group of concerned residents and their attorney finally got an opportunity to walk the site of the proposed casino.
The April 15 site walk — the property off Stafford Road is now owned by Twin River-Tiverton LLC — was open to the public, but all participants were required to sign a waiver. About 60 people attended the walk. The group was comprised of those in favor of the casino and those concerned about the impact it will have on the local environment and neighborhoods.
Visitors walked the temporary construction access road, and saw where the road that will lead to the casino will be built. They didn't get to see much of the property. The controversial project calls for a 77,500-square-foot, two-story casino; a three-story hotel with 84 guest rooms; a two-story, 140,000-square-foot parking garage with 844 parking spaces; and 275 surface parking spots.
The 48-acre site is largely wetlands.
Attorney Karen Augeri Benson, who told ecoRI News last month that best environmental practices are being ignored when it comes to the construction of the new Twin River casino, attended the walk. The site visit did nothing to alleviate her concerns.
“I think it's a catastrophe,” said the Fall River, Mass.-based environmental attorney. “Are they within the limits approved by DEM (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management)? We hope we can compel the town that a more responsible review will be part of the permitting process.”
Four members of the Planning Board attended the site visit. Susan Gill, the board’s vice chairwoman, said the project’s wetlands permit will be properly vetted.
“We're going to wait and see when it's presented to us,” she said. “It’s all under review.”
The casino project is on the agenda for the Planning Board's April 26 meeting, 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Mark Russo, an attorney for the Twin River Management Group, said a wetland and environmental impact study have been submitted to DEM. “Permit approval is pending with DEM now,” he said.
Save Tiverton, a group of concerned residents being represented by Benson, hired a West Warwick-based environmental consulting firm to assess the proposed casino project. Members of the group claim the impact on wildlife will be more serious than the developer has indicated. Construction will push wildlife, especially deer, into residents’ backyards, according to the Ecosystem Solutions Inc. report.
In an April 3 letter addressing the initial wetland permitting review, Brandon Faneuf, Ecosystem Solutions’ principal, noted that no soil testing has been performed, and documented concerns regarding infiltration. He wrote that the habitat provided by the site is optimal for the eastern box turtle, but noted that the project’s wildlife assessment doesn’t make mention of that. He recommended trash fencing near wetlands.
“With the proximity to wetlands being close just about anywhere, I think that some high fencing is in order or the wetland is going to become a dump in a few years,” Faneuf wrote.
Faneuf also noted that mentioning nature trails and lookouts “in the narrative but omitting them from the plan is further evidence that this application was either gauging RIDEM’s temp. or rushing to beat the issuance of new regulations.”
He concluded that, “The important thing to recognize about this property is that it consists of a very large block of forested habitat, relative to Rhode Island, which support a unique fauna that has difficulty surviving in developed and therefore fragmented landscapes ... these important blocks of land are becoming fewer and fewer in the State and that they need to be conserved as much as possible before they are gone.”
In a March 6 letter from the town’s engineering firm, Warwick-based Steere Engineering, to the Tiverton Planning Department more than 10 concerns about soil erosion and sedimentation control were mentioned. Steere Engineering’s report also listed multiple problems with project construction as the result of a March 2 site visit.
Michelle and Roger Belanger, who have been living in their Stafford Road home since 1990, attended the recent site visit. They’re concerned about the casino’s impact on the local environment. Their property abuts the construction site.
“The environment is more than just nature. It’s our quality of life,” Roger Belanger said. “We didn't buy this property to live near this dump. It’s bad news.”
As for the recent site visit, he said, “They showed us what they wanted us to see.”