Sen. Tiara Mack, on left, and Rep. José Batista, right, speak at a press conference at Collier Point Park in Providence on Wednesday, April 19. Standing behind them is Gerard Catala, president of the NAACP Providence Branch. The two legislators drew attention to a lack of state involvement with the community in development efforts. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
First came the decision to close the Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School in December. Then rumors began to spread about a proposed homeless shelter at 1144 Eddy Street. Now an Allens Avenue metal recycler with a history of environmental issues is looking to expand.
Enough is enough, say residents of the Providence neighborhood who claim they were never given a say.
“Not all development is good,” Linda Perri, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years said Wednesday. “We were promised a robust community conversation and that has not happened.”
Perri was among the activists and legislators gathered at Collier Point Park seeking to halt these projects and demand the opportunity for those who live in Washington Park to provide input before each moves forward, not after.
“The time is past due for the residents of Washington Park to be heard,” said Sen. Tiara Mack, of Providence, whose district includes Washington Park. “They can see their neighborhoods don’t get the same respect others do.”
“We’ve been working on this issue,” said Rep. José Batista, of Providence, whose district includes the neighborhood, referring to the perceived lack of communication. “We’re not satisfied with the answers we’ve heard so far.”
The press conference happened about a month after Rhode Island Recycled Metals, LLC, purchased 9.6 acres near their 434 Allens Avenue scrap yard, raising concerns about a potential expansion. The company has been the source of 19 complaints filed with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management since 2013, confirmed agency spokesman Michael Healey.
Healey added that DEM brought an enforcement action against the company and an ongoing lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court to clean up “egregious water pollution and soil contamination violations on the property.”
Rhode Island Recycled Metals, LLC, did not respond to requests for comment.
Not all development is good. We were promised a robust community conversation and that has not happened.
– Not all development is good. We were promised a robust community conversation and that has not happened. Linda Perri, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association
Also at the press conference were Sen. Ana Quezada, of Providence, and Rep. Enrique Sanchez, of Providence. Other speakers included NAACP Providence Branch President Gerard Catala, Director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC Harrison Tuttle, and Monica Huertas, founding president of the People’s Port Authority.
Speakers at the conference said the Port of Providence, and the highly trafficked Allens Avenue and Interstate 95 — which run through Washington Park — contribute to negative health outcomes and an attitude that resident’s opinions can be ignored.
“South Providence and Washington Park are already burdened with an LNG terminal, a growing commercial port, an asphalt plant, a huge and potentially expanding scrapyard that pollutes our waterfront and resists regulation, and one of the widest, busiest sections of interstate highway in Rhode Island,” said Batista, who grew up in the neighborhood as a child with asthma.
“Our neighborhood deserves much better, and we absolutely deserve a chance to speak up and be heard about the developments that continue to be pushed on us.”
The port, a major economic hub for the city, dominates Washington Park. According to the website of ProvPort, Inc, the port’s managing firm, since 1994 it has generated $164 million in revenue for the City of Providence and $211 million for the state.
According to a 2021 report from the Rhode Island Department of Health, Washington Park saw some of the highest instances of asthma among children between ages two and 17, with between 14.6 and 22.1 cases per 1,000.
Racial and economic disparities
Speakers said they feel the racial and economic profile of the neighborhood is a factor in the situation.
“This is a tale of two cities,” Harrison Tuttle, president of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee, said. “It’s no coincidence that we got here through policies of environmental racism.”
According to niche.com, a college and college housing search site (Johnson and Wales University has a campus in the neighborhood), the median household income for Washington Park is $46,834 annually and 52% of households make less than $45,000. 43% of residents are Latino, 34% are white, 15% African American, and 6% are Asian.
“I feel like they’re targeting communities of color and we’re being displaced,” Carlos Cedeno, a parent of two children attending Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School told Rhode Island Current in an interview in Spanish.
Cedeno added that no one informed the community of the school’s closure until it was already decided. “We need new leadership that cares about Black communities and communities of color,” he said.
In December the Rhode Island Department of Education announced the school’s closure at the end of the 2022 to 2023 school year as part of a $500 million facilities plan for Providence Public Schools. Local parents chose to send their kids there because it was walkable, in a neighborhood where many lack access to private transportation.
With its closure, parents will have to bus or figure alternative transit to schools throughout the city.
“To the Washington Park community, the school is a safe space,” Katelyn Crudale, the Parent Teacher Organization president, said at the conference.
Victor Morente, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education, said there are no plans to reverse the school’s closure.
Batista and Mack said they only heard this winter that 1144 Eddy Street was listed as a possible homeless shelter through Twitter and community gossip and no one from the state informed them of such a move. The property is owned by 1144 Eddy Street LLC. Its agent, Mary Birsic, is an accountant at Paolino Properties, whose managing partner is former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino. Neither could be reached for comment.
“The shelter in and of itself is not a problem,” Batista said, adding the lack of community input was.
The Rhode Island Department of Housing did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the difficulties facing their community, leaders said hope motivated their decision to call the press conference.
“I can only hope and demand that hope has action,” Mack said.
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