NORTH SMITHFIELD – Expert Lorraine Joubert has told members of the Water Supply Review Committee that she did not agree with a decision to exempt industrial and commercial areas from the town’s water supply overlay district back in 2020.
“It’s like having a hospital zone but prohibiting hospitals, so I don’t understand how that would have any benefit of adopting a rule but then exempting the potential violators,” said Joubert, director of the Nonpoint Source Education for Municipal Officials program at the University of Rhode Island, during a May 5 meeting.
Joubert is urging officials to be more proactive on water issues and protecting residents going forward. Among other recommendations, she’s told them that they could be requiring on-site inspections for businesses and other common sense measures where there is currently little or no oversight.
The Water Supply Review Committee, initiated by Town Councilor Doug Osier, was created to discuss the current water overlay ordinance and determine whether or not certain aspects of it need reviewing to match the town’s comprehensive plan.
The Water Supply Overlay District ordinance was updated in 2020, when it was suggested to the council that the overlay map be slightly altered to exempt areas surrounding Industrial Drive and Route 146. The decision was ultimately made to go along with that recommendation to promote tax revenue.
Though the Water Supply Review Committee was originally tasked with completing work within 60 days, the Town Council recently extended their time together to 150 days.
Joubert said that as she’s worked with other municipalities in Rhode Island, she’s always dealing with water supply protection, focusing on safeguards and management practices. She has also worked on a project funded by the Rhode Island Department of Health to evaluate pollution sources to drinking water supplies, including North Smithfield’s.
In her experience, she said, each department reviews new businesses interested in coming to town, also requiring these businesses to hire consultants to review compliance on hazardous materials and water.
“If the decision was to go ahead and allow the hazardous material use, the town might consider on-site inspections of their own just to make sure things are going as required, but that would be an additional burden on the town staff,” she said.
Joubert referenced Charlestown where there are limited resources but an ordinance focused on containment of hazardous materials within buildings and the types of permits that should be used. North Kingstown is a larger community with community-specific rules to protect water.
“They have a groundwater nitrogen loading ordinance that regulates how much nitrogen you can contribute from septic systems and especially large septic systems, and they also own the water supply that they draw from wells, so they own the water supply and manage the wellhead areas,” she said.
Joubert said North Smithfield’s maps differ from maps shown by the Rhode Island Department of Management, and it is up to the town to contact the state to make sure everything matches up correctly.
The committee asked if the topic of wells should be considered with any ordinance changes, and Joubert responded that wells are typically not regulated through such an ordinance, but towns will help private well owners learn more about their wells. She mentioned her colleague Allison McCann who runs private well workshops all over the state.
Zoning Board member Michael Marston asked the committee the purpose behind their meetings, saying someone should be taking the lead on recommendations. Member Gail Berlinghof said that if she has to go to every business to figure out what they’re doing to stay in compliance, she will. Responding to Joubert’s comments about North Smithfield’s assets and potential future well development, former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said the committee has to work with existing realities, and that some areas are most likely never going to be developed for water resources.
“We have struggled to get developed for the past, I don’t know, 25 years at least,” said Ezovski.
“The question becomes how wise it is to increase or decrease the business opportunity,” he said.
Ezovski said potential high-capacity wells depicted on maps simply aren’t going to happen.
Joubert responded that if something is already contaminated, there are steps to take such as capping the service to contain materials and prevent them from spreading.
In terms of in the exempt area, she said, there is no oversight currently.
“I think I see it as a middle ground where new industries coming in can still run a business, still control what they’re using and storing it properly, and shipping it out when it’s full,” she said. “I think there’s a vast difference between no regulation and having some basic common sense measures.”
Member Cynthia Roberts said residents should become involved in the conversation and hold their officials in power accountable for their water resources.
I thought the present town administrator for NS was Paul Zwolenski…..not Ezovski….
Ah…you have since added the word…former! Thanks!
Welcome to the discussion.
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