Trash, East Main rotary get Portsmouth residents fired up

Council discussion moved to Thursday at PHS due to large crowd at Town Hall

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/29/23

Once again, the Town Council has had to delay discussion on a controversial issue due to overcrowding at a meeting.

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Trash, East Main rotary get Portsmouth residents fired up

Council discussion moved to Thursday at PHS due to large crowd at Town Hall

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Once again, the Town Council has had to delay discussion on a controversial issue due to overcrowding at a meeting.

In this case, there are actually two contentious issues at stake: The future of the transfer station, and a roundabout the R.I. Department of Transportation plans to construct in front of Clements’ Marketplace at the intersection of East Main Road and Turnpike Avenue. 

Those agenda items, originally scheduled to be heard Monday, were moved to a special meeting which will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30, in the Portsmouth High School auditorium.

It was the second time in as many months that the council was forced to move an agenda item due to a large turnout. A request for proposals (RFP) regarding the operation of the transfer station and implementing a town-wide curbside program drew so many people to Town Hall on Sept. 11 that the agenda item was moved to a special meeting held Oct. 23 at PHS. 

It soon became apparent Monday night that, again, far too many residents wanted in to the council chambers than the room could hold. A good 15 minutes before the meeting began, it was standing room only in the chambers, and about 40 other residents crowded the hallway just outside the entranceway.

Fire Chief Paul Ford huddled with Police Chief Brian Peters, Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., and Council Vice President Leonard Katzman — he sat as president in the absence of Kevin Aguiar — shortly before the meeting was to begin. Shortly afterwards, Katzman announced that Ford had determined the room was over capacity and the meeting would violate fire codes if it were to continue.

After some grumbling from residents, many of whom complained they couldn’t hear clearly, Katzman asked for a show of hands to see how many people were there regarding the transfer station, or the rotary. The East Main Road roundabout, he explained, “has a shorter, time-sensitive pressure on it,” Katzman explained, while there’s more flexibility with the transfer station RFP.

RIDOT, in a letter to the town, said it will soon be “advancing the pavement improvement project along East Main Road and traffic enhancements in the form of a roundabout at the intersection of Route 138 and Turnpike Avenue to the RFP stage.” The department is asking about the town’s preferences in regarding to certain issues such the allowance of nighttime work and some traffic modifications.

RIDOT wants an answer, Katzman told the crowd, “or they’re going to move on.”

That’s when things got heated. When Katzman asked for a show of hands from people who were there for “the transfer station only,” resident Karen Gleason got up from her chair, faced the crowd, and asked people to raise their hands.

“Miss Gleason, please sit down. This is not a circus,” council member Keith Hamilton yelled to her in a raised voice while Gleason’s husband, council member David Gleason, sat to his right.

After the informal vote by hands was completed, the council determined that too many residents showed up to hear each agenda item to permit them to be heard that night. 

Rainer, texting with School Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy, learned the PHS auditorium was available Thursday, so the meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m.

“The reason it’s Thursday is because you need a full 48 hours of notice,” Hamilton said.

RFP challenged

After more than three hours of contentious debate during a meeting Oct. 23 that was attended by more than 150 residents, the council voted unanimously to advertise two separate RFPs regarding the town’s waste management operation:

1) One is to develop a town-wide curbside collection program, which would provide for bulky waste to be picked up curbside for an additional cost to each resident. The town would seek just one vendor for the job in order to reduce costs for enrolled residents.

2) The other is to prepare an RFP for curbside collection, but to keep the transfer station open for bulky waste and diversion materials from noon to 7 p.m. on Thursday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. If this option were to be chosen by the council, the projected sicker cost would be $235.71 for each resident who chooses to use the station for bulky items. That cost, which is only an estimate, would be in addition to the cost of curbside pickup.

The council rejected the only other option, which was to seek an RFP for curbside collection only, thereby eliminating the aging transfer station outright. 

Council members insist they have made no decision to close the transfer station, which will remain open until at least June 30, 2025 when the current operators’ contract with the town expires. Until then, however, the town needs to explore the possibility of a future town-wide curbside collection program, while possibly keeping the transfer station open only for the deposit of bulky waste or diversion items, officials say.

Fans of the transfer station, however, have submitted to the town a petition signed by hundreds of residents who want the facility to remain as is. On Thursday, the council will hear an agenda item brought by member Gleason that the RFP include an option for bids to “keep the transfer station open, in its entirety, as currently operating. The RFP shall include bids with use of town trash bags and without. 

Roundabout work

Although the planned roundabout in front of Clements’ Marketplace has been part of RIDOT’s major East Main Road improvements plan for many years, it seems to have caught many residents off guard.

Rainer met with the RIDOT director on Nov. 21 regarding the East Main Road repaving project. In a followup letter to the council, Rainer said “DOT is seeking the town’s affirmation to proceed with the project as designed, but is aware there are stakeholders with varying opinions on the installation of the roundabout.”

According to RIDOT’s project manager, if the town doesn’t support the roundabout, “DOT will need to modify the project to strictly focus on resurfacing East Main Road,” Rainer stated. 

However, the roundabout construction originally addressed state stormwater permitting requirements related to the addition of impervious areas, he said. “If the roundabout is removed, these requirements will no longer be met,” Rainer stated in his letter, adding that would necessitate the removal of all impervious additions such as sidewalks, shared-use paths, and curbing realignments.

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