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Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England

Central Falls, RI Creates Award-Winning Nature Trail and Community Park to Replace an Urban Factory That Had Stood Abandoned for over Twelve Years

Success in EPA-Lead Targeted Brownfields Assessment Program
Central Falls, RI
(October 6, 2003)

A $30,000 US EPA conducted Targeted Brownfield Assessment helped the city of Central Falls, RI reclaim part of its community and bring some needed greenspace to the economically disadvantaged city. With the creation of two award-winning urban green spaces- the River Island Community Park and Blackstone River Island Nature Trail- the riverside community can enjoy a safe and beautiful community gathering place that has been recognized throughout the state.

  Photo of Community Park at former Spintex Mill site.

The former Spintex Mill was located at the 1461 High Street property until owner Herman J. Beckstoffer Jr. abandoned the site in 1986. The property would remain unused for twelve years and burn down in 1995. By 1996 the city of Central Falls foreclosed on the property due to the $35,000 in back taxes owed on the failed yarn mill.

Following the involuntary acquisition of the property by the city, the property could not be sold due to the rumors of hazardous and costly environmental contamination thought to plague the site. No private company would redevelop the site due to the environmental stigma that surrounded the just over 2 acre site. In 1997, frustrated with the deserted property, the city of Central Falls requested the assistance of the EPA’s Brownfields Program to assess the contamination levels at the site and make estimates on cleanup costs.

The EPA New England contracted with the local environmental firm, Roy F. Weston, Inc of Burlington, MA to conduct both Phase I and Phase II Targeted Brownfields Assessments on the site. Phase I was completed in July of 1997 and Phase II was completed in January 1998. Through extensive soil sampling, the assessments identified the presence of demolition debris and contaminants throughout the site that were above residential exposure standards.

The EPA then conducted a Cleanup Options Study and Cost Estimate, which was completed in July 1998 that would give the river community a foundation for future redevelopment planning. The study recommended additional assessments be performed to further delineate the environmental hazards found at the site and estimated the cleanup cost at $290,000. This cost of cleanup was later wrapped into the park’s overall construction costs.

Demolition, clean-up, and construction of the River Island Community Park and Blackstone River Island Nature Trail began at the end of 1998. By 1999, the city was set to hire a design firm to give vision to the developing green space. The Cumberland, RI design firm, Gifford Design Group, developed the conceptual plan that was based on the community’s desire to preserve the unique flora and fauna of the river island while redeveloping the former industrial site. The finalized River Island Community Park and Blackstone River Island Nature Trail would compass the 2.14 acre Spintex Mill site and a 4.10 acre island adjacent to the site that is separated from the mainland by a slice of the beautiful Blackstone River. The island was donated by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM).

The two, six-plus acre greenspaces include various community, health, and environmentally centered features. There is an exercise track, nature hiking trails, a field house, a multipurpose field for community sports and play, a pedestrian bridge over the scenic Blackstone River to the island park, and a canoe launch for weekend trips to the river. The two new nature areas are maintained by the Central Fall’s Public Works Department and the Parks and Recreation Department.

In May 2003, the two redeveloped sites were selected to receive the John H. Chaffee Award from the Environmental Council of Rhode Island. The award was given to commend the city for providing outdoor recreation while still preserving the natural habitats and structures at the site.

Other than the $30,000 US EPA conducted Targeted Brownfield Assessment, the city of Central Falls received funding for the beautiful community centers through several other sources, including: a Community Development Block Grant of $550,000 from 1998 to 2002; a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Open Space Bond of $225,000; a Rhode Island Recreation Area Grant from the State’s Greenways Council of $25,000; and a Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Trails Program Grant of $46,348.

The city of Central Falls has an urban population of almost 19,000 people with over 44% of residences of Hispanic or Latino descent. The unemployment rate stood at 4.6% in 1999 as compared to the state’s rate of 3.6%. Median household incomes are almost half of the state’s with the average household making only $23,000 a year, as compared to the states $42,000 a year. In Central Falls 22% of families make under $10,000 a year. These numbers leave a huge 26% of the population below the poverty level as compared to the states low 8.9% average.

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