Proposed DEM Welcome Center Passes Traffic Study

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

RICHMOND, R.I. — No date has been set for when the proposed visitors center on Browining Mill Pond will break ground, but the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently released a traffic study indicating that the 13,000-square-foot building will not cause traffic or create a safety problem.

Area residents opposing the $7.2 million Arcadia Natural Resources & Visitors Center are concerned that the facility will spoil the quiet, rural site that is popular for sledding and picnicking. DEM also is accused of not adequately publicizing the project to deter public pushback.

Both the Richmond and Exeter town councils objected to the project and asked DEM to seek an alternate location. An online petition opposing the site of the project received more than 1,400 signors.

DEM admitted that it could have done more to invite public review of the project before building permits were issued by local and state officials. After public outcry, DEM hosted a public hearing in Richmond on March 9. No subsequent public meetings have been held.

Richmond Town Council president Paul Michaud told ecoRI News that construction isn't imminent. The Town Council is expected to discuss the traffic report at its June 20 meeting.

DEM launched the project to create a centralized location for several undersized and temporary offices in Washington County. The project is also intended to promote the heavily forested, 14,000-acre Arcadia Management Area and recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing, hunting and bird watching. The welcome center will house wildlife biologists, and provide education and meeting rooms, restrooms and a comfort station, according to DEM.

The project was planned over four years and will be funded through a line item in DEM’s budget. Work was initially intended to begin this March and be finished by March 2018.

The traffic study found that fewer than 60 vehicles would travel the road to the new facility daily. Half of the vehicle trips would be driven by visitors, and the other half would be driven by the 26 employees working in the building.

DEM plans to improve safety by regrading the road and adding signage.