Rep. McLaughlin pitches statewide mine safety fact-finding commission

Rep. McLaughlin pitches statewide mine safety fact-finding commission

CUMBERLAND - State Rep. Jim McLaughlin's crusade for continued investigation of 19th-century mining operations near the site of the new Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy has evolved into a call for a statewide fact-finding commission on mining operations throughout Rhode Island.

The problem, McLaughlin told the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare last week, is the state's general lack of knowledge about Rhode Island's mining history and the hazards the underground shafts may pose not only in Valley Falls, but in places like Portsmouth, East Providence and Cranston, where mining was also going on.

Said McLaughlin, "I believe this deserves attention throughout the state. We've had over 100 years of mining," he said. "I don't believe it's confined to 52 Broad St."

Expressing support for a commission at last week's hearing, either in person or through a statement, were Joseph Paul da Silva, construction coordinator for the state Department of Education; Nicole Pollock, legislative liaison at the state Department of Environmental Management; Alice Clemente, a long-time area resident; Tim Ryan, Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents, and Sylvia Weber of the state Nurses Association.

McLaughlin is counting five mine shaft cave-ins over 35 years in the vicinity of the school construction site - one as late as 2005, and one as close as 38 feet, he claims.

And he is pointing to a 1915 study, "Rhode Island Coal," by George Ashley, for new information about the Valley Falls operation that says mine shafts were as deep as 250 feet.

"I am not opposed to mayoral academies or the building of charter schools," he told the committee last week. He'd have the same concerns no matter what building was underway on the site.

"All I'm saying is proceed with caution. We've got 400 kids going to this school."

Lending credibility to McLaughlin's statements was state Rep. Brian Dickinson of South Kingstown.

"This is a serious matter. What he's saying absolutely makes sense," he testified last week.

"Jim and I visited the site and talked to people who have personal memory. It's real."

He's suggesting that Rhode Island adopt the same federal standards governing construction near mines.

Dickensen, a contractor, admitted, "I don't know much about mining," but said he's estimating that even if the mining company operated for only 25 years, it developed 20,000 linear feet of tunnels, about 7 feet by 7 feet in size.

Said McLaughlin, "If more core drilling were done, I don't have a problem." He's asking for samplings on the site that go down 200 feet.

Addressing the committee, too, was David Umansky, chief executive officer of Civic Builders of New York, the firm building the school.

"We are incredibly concerned about the safety of children in all our buildings, of course," he told the committee.

He added, "We feel strongly we are incredibly responsible at what we're doing and this particular building is safe for children."

An engineer with Pare Engineering of Lincoln conceded that 40-foot test borings "were relatively shallow" but said there was "no indication the mine extends into the site."

Based on past collapses, he said, tunnels seem to head northwest from the Lusitana Club while the school site is in the northeast direction."

A January 2014 report by Pare, released this week by the state Department of Environmental Management, addresses the coal mining issue saying that while it's possible "voids may be present in the rock below the site . . . it is our preliminary assessment that it is unlikely that subsidence (cave-ins) will develop at the surface because there is sufficient rock cover, that is, greater than 100 feet, above the coal workings on the proposed school site."

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection notes on it website that the deeper the mine workings, the less likely it is to cave in.

Commenting later, Mayor Daniel McKee said he understands that state officials are supporting creation of the commission, but said McLaughlin is confusing support for general mine safety with specific concerns about 52 Broad St. "He's making the connection and therefore wants to stop that project because it's within five miles of an old coal mine."

"When does it stop?" he asked of a persistence by McLaughlin that McKee labeled "obsessive."

The mayor also complained that McLaughlin's focus "is continuing to put into jeopardy property values in the area."

Comments

Hey Rep how many jobs will this create? Oh yeah none. While you are at it, PLEASE ask everyone homeowner to move out for their own safety. Your comment that you are not against BVP is so disingenuous. If safety was your real concern you would be putting in a bill to have the entire area evacuated for everyone's SAFETY!....Thanks for the help in killing the valuation of our homes and businesses, great job representing ALL of us.

Should we be concerned if BVP is building on a mine?....yes

Should property owners be concerned if the BVP building developers problems?...yes

Should we be concerned that BVP is going to shock $2.9 million out of the Cumberland School Budget?... Yes

McKee says the money follows the child.. How does a school system continue to succeed when he does not have to go begging in front of the town council for funding?

Horray for Rep. McLaughlin for sticking up for the residents.

The McKee family has and always will be about themselves. When will people begin to see this?

Jim, when are you going to retire?