More Monkey Business at the Central Landfill

Like escaping gas, the heap at the Central Landfill in Johnston keeps burping up more evidence of the bloated corruption and mismanagement of the site that is going to cost Rhode Island taxpayers almost $120 million. The latest example - just come to light - is the fact that when the landfill expands in another three years and opens up for use the last remaining section of the site, it’s going to force the destruction of the buildings that the landfill agency, the RI Resource Recovery Corporation, currently uses.

That’s right. The land the previous RIRRC administration selected to site its headquarters building along with its power plant, maintenance building and a warehouse transfer center – a total of five buildings – will have to be demolished to clear the space for fill use. These buildings, most built during the 1990s and one even after that, cost $42 million to construct. What they will cost to build in 2013 will probably cost even more.

Why these buildings were located over land the agency knew through its longstanding master plan would one day be needed – part of what was designated as the final available acreage RIRRC had at its disposal - is the $42 million dollar question. You’ve got to wonder why someone at the agency didn’t point that out before they built the first building or certainly when they came to add four more.

But it’s not surprising really, considering the way the operation was run before Michael O’Connell, an out-of-state retired business executive hired by Governor Don Carcieri, became its executive director in 2007. O’Connell is the guy who blew the whistle on his counterparts and the board members who had been running the landfill as their own smelly, private fiefdom.

The taxpayer tab for their misdeeds, which ranged from misappropriation of funds to a fishy land deal with the family of the mayor of Johnston at the time, will end up costing the state – that means you and me – some $75 million. Virtually all of that money has been declared beyond recovery, and the individuals involved free from prosecution, amazingly enough, because of the statute of limitations. Why this bitter, unsatisfactory outcome has been passively accepted needs to be reexamined by the next attorney general.

The final section of land – some 102 acres – will provide another 22 years of operational life to the landfill, which currently takes in some 750,000 tons of trash each year. When that section reaches its fill capacity, the state will face a stark choice: either pay to ship our trash out of state or build and operate an incinerator. The incinerator option, posed a decade ago for Quonset, was shot down by local opposition, so an incinerator will face a tough NIMBY haul for acceptance. But other states and other countries incinerate their trash already, and in 20 years’ time the technology should be able to provide an even cleaner solution.