Residents concerned about construction runoff in Slacks Pond

Residents concerned about construction runoff in Slacks Pond

Sand surrounding the telephone pole at the end of the westernmost building is evidence that erosion controls, which were supposed to line the drive, were not in place. A stream to the left of the pole pours directly into Slacks Pond. Concerned citizens said during rain events, the stream fills with construction site runoff, which may contain harmful chemicals. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – Two concerned citizens are speaking out after seeing extensive rain runoff from a construction site flowing into a tributary that pours into Slacks Pond. They say they’re hoping to prevent future potential harmful contamination.

Tom Quigley, Slacks Reservoir Association president, said a three-lot subdivision on Barden Lane in Johnston has wetland permits requiring soil and erosion control that were either not put in place or had only sections installed.

Pointing to one home under construction, Quigley showed where a lack of erosion control caused sand and dirt buildup near the end of the driveway, which bordered on a small stream that flows into the pond approximately 200 feet away.

Since construction began last August, Quigley said every rain event has led to brown runoff pouring into the pond. During those storms, the private road, which is off Winsor Avenue, is covered in brown, opaque water that goes into the stream and nearby tributaries.

“It’s a straight shot from here to the pond,” Quigley said.

The subdivision was created from a portion of an old apple orchard, Quigley noted, known to have a high level of arsenic in the soil from apples and pesticides.

“Any time it rains and that runoff goes into the stream or down the road into Slacks, those chemicals are going into the water,” he told The Valley Breeze & Observer. There need to be hay bales or some type of barrier to stop the runoff, he said.

“The point is to protect the reservoir, so now we feel like we need to do what they are not,” Quigley said.

Quigley said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is ignoring what he sees as a “serious situation,” despite several complaints. Plans show a three-lot development with a limit of disturbance area around the three-bedroom houses, requiring erosion control including a site fence and temporary treatment of hay or straw until the ground cover is established.

“We need someone to listen. We need someone to pay attention and protect our water,” Quigley said.

In January, the RIDEM visited the site and issued a notice of non-conformance with permits for site owner Peter Del Ponte. A response was received, but the RIDEM did not respond to calls seeking an explanation this week.

Del Ponte, former code enforcement officer for the town of Johnston, originally applied for wetland permits for the lots in 2016. He also could not be reached for comment.

Bill Shepard, who lives across from the development on Barden Lane, said he has three main issues with the site: dust, noise and runoff into the lake. He said he’s complained to construction crews often enough that he no longer has a peaceful relationship with them, adding that interactions from them now border on harassment. Shepard said his property border has been pushed back past his driveway and brick wall. He said he hopes to work out an agreement with Del Ponte regarding his property.

“We literally bought the house in August 2020, and days later this all began to happen,” he said.

Shepard said he and his girlfriend were elated to purchase the waterfront property, where he goes out fishing every night and enjoys swimming frequently. He said all of his neighbors and residents in the area live on the water to enjoy the water.

Shepard said he fears the runoff may cause irreparable damage, and he would like to see runoff tested before construction continues, as well as action taken on the missing erosion control.

“We have every right to be concerned about it. I’m disgusted with what they’re doing to the reservoir,” he said.

He said Slacks has the “whole gamut” of wildlife. There are 160 properties along the private pond, he said, in two towns. How this problem is allowed to persist is mind-blowing, he said.

“I want to keep this property as long as I can and protect the water for my kids and future generations. We have to protect it,” he said.

Shepard said the home project on the easternmost side received a $1,500 fine from the state for the same issue, and said there is still not proper erosion control there.

Shepard said he would test the water himself if testing were not so expensive.

Development plans for the three subdivisions on Barden Lane in Johnston show erosion control around the three-bedroom homes to prevent runoff from entering Slacks Pond.