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Livable photo
Clean Air
Clean and Plentiful Water
Livable Communities
Healthy Ecosystems
Viable Resource
Open Space
Watersheds
Livable Communities

Rhode Island's communities will be free from unacceptable human health and ecological risks from exposure to hazardous substances and other potentially harmful agents. Natural resources will be managed to protect the public from floods, fires and other risks. Communities will increase their capacity to plan for growth in a way that minimizes negative impacts on the environment and community character and that contributes to a sustainable economy.

The Department's Livability agenda includes a wide variety of programs to reduce sprawl and revitalize communities. The agenda builds on local priorities for environmentally sound communities and patterns of living that safeguard human health. It includes strategies such as empowering individuals and communities, encouraging Smart Growth, enhancing water resources, preserving open space and cultural heritage, promoting transportation choices, reclaiming Brownfields, securing public health and safety, and strengthening local economies.

This report covers many such topics under other goals such as healthy ecosystems, open space and watersheds. The Livability chapter focuses on reducing sprawl and encouraging compact development by revitalization in developed areas, as well as protection of public health (reduced risk of animal borne disease) and safety from physical risks such as tire piles and dilapidated dams.

Planning For Sustainability
One of Rhode Island's greatest challenges is coping with the effects of sprawl - wasteful land development patterns that lead to many problems. These include loss of farm, forest and open space; fragmented habitats; non-point source water pollution; small source air pollution; and fiscal strain on communities to maintain abandoned infrastructure in developed areas and to build new facilities in rural communities. Department strategies for urban reinvestment include brownfields restoration, urban forestry open space initiatives, and urban rivers restoration. DEM helps rural communities cope with sprawl by using innovative ways to guide growth to areas that minimize impacts to the environment and community character, and preserve open space.

Brownfields Redevelopment
In 1999 DEM entered into 14 agreements with prospective purchasers of contaminated property who agreed to clean up the sites for reuse. In return, they will not be held liable for past environmental practices. These settlements cover 167.9 acres worth $17,295,000, with $619,320 in taxes generated. The Department prepared draft settlement agreements for 10 sites and completed six remedial investigation reports to evaluate and market abandoned and contaminated properties. One site is the new home of the Button Hole Golf Course for urban youth. The City of Providence will use two other sites.

Urban Environment
The Department promotes community tree planting and trains stewards for tree planting programs. Since 1992 the Department has awarded nearly $1,090,000 in grants, matched by nearly $1,400,000 from communities. In 1999 the Department awarded $90,000 in Urban Forest Grants matched by over $90,000 from communities. Residents of Rhode island's cities have few chances to enjoy a leafy walk in a wildlife management area, to ride a horse or play a round of golf. In 1999 DEM continued efforts to provide outdoor recreation for city people, especially children. These include award of 50 percent of greenways grants for open space in urban areas, making 27 acres in Providence available for a 9 hole youth golf training center; designs to rebuild The Goddard State Park horse barn; and designs for rebuilding facilities serving the sandy beach pond in World War II State Park in downtown Woonsocket

The Department also works in the Urban Rivers Team (see watershed chapter for more information).

Planning For Growth
In 1999, The Department worked with the South County Watershed partners to explore ways to guide growth to minimize environmental harm, maintain community character and preserve open space. Stakeholders selected sites to create scenarios to show how land developed with sustainable methods compares to buildouts using conventional zoning and subdivision regulations. The Department also conducted workshops and began training programs for local boards. DEM worked with the Governor's Office and other state agencies to lay the groundwork for the Governor's Growth Planning Council that will examine development patterns; evaluate effects of programs and policies on development; recommend ways to encourage economically and environmentally sound growth; and build local capacity to promote sustainable growth.

Pesticide Hazard Reduction
In 1999, the Department awarded $138,408 for integrated pest management (IPM) to reduce or eliminate reliance on chemical pesticides. Projects include the Southside Community Land Trust for urban community gardens, URI Department of Plant Sciences for pesticide applicator training, and URI's Center for Vector-Borne Disease for mosquito testing equipment.

Preventing, Abating and Remediating hazardous materials and other contaminants - Lead
Childhood lead poisoning is still the leading children's health problem in Rhode Island, despite the drop in poisoning rates from 20% in 1995 to 10% in 1999. Given the lifelong damage that victims may suffer, every effort must be made to reduce lead exposure.

In 1999 the Department monitored and ensured cleanup of 57 residential sites with exterior lead paint removal violations. The Department developed a streamlined process to notify paint removal workers of violations directly at the work site and issue immediate cease and desist orders for failure to comply. The Department will use the new process this year. DEM is also partnering with the Department of Health to provide intense compliance monitoring of lead paint hot spots.

Dioxins and Volatile Organic Compound Contamination in the Woonasquatucket River
In 1999 the Department and EPA addressed health hazards from dioxins and volatile organic compounds (VOC's) at Centredale Manor. These included analyzing soil and sediments samples, fencing contaminated areas, posting no fishing signs, and installing temporary soil caps to avoid disturbing contamination. The Department, EPA and others are investigating sources and extent of contaminants and potential risk to human health or the environment. Plans are underway to address contaminated soils along the Woonasquatucket down to Allendale Pond and Lymansville Pond.

Pollution Prevention in AutoBody Shops
DEM-led investigators found that repair technicians are exposed to high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium in autobody sanding dust.In 1999 DEM, the Department of Health, the URI Center for Pollution Prevention, and the William Davies Career and Technical High School started an Autobody Self-Certification Pro-gram to prevent these hazards.

The certification program requires minor effort compared to conventional permitting and enforcement programs, and is expected to achieve higher compliance rates. The program also includes training on cost-saving autobody technology as well as blood lead testing for autobody repair technicians, sampling of surfaces for lead, and worker education.

Environmental Hazards Animal Borne Diseases
The Department monitors the most serious diseases transmitted from animals to humans: rabies and encephalitis. In 1999, DEM found a rise in rabies with 35% of 66 animals testing positive by March of 1999, up from 13.7% of 283 animals tested in 1998. Monitoring helps alert communities at risk to take precautions such as avoiding wild animals and keeping pets vaccinated.

Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), is a rare disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes an average of five cases per year in the US with a mortality rate of 50%. The Department traps mosquitoes each summer to monitor the virus. If the virus is found in mosquitoes the Department takes measures to kill mosquitoes in the area and warns residents to avoid exposure. The trapping program also tests for other types of viral encephalitis.

West Nile Virus
The WNV, commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East, can cause West Nile Encephalitis. The first incidence in the Western Hemisphere was recorded in New York last summer with 62 cases of WNV and 7 deaths. While the mortality rate, under 12%, is less than that of EEE, the number of cases may be greater for WNV, making it equally serious. DEM, in conjunction with the Department of Health, began planning in 1999 for the WNV. DEM acquired larvicide for municipalities to use during breeding season. The larvicide does not require spraying and is not toxic to humans or the environment generally.

Physical Hazards: Dam Failure and Fire
The 510 registered dams in Rhode Island are rated high, significant, or low hazard, based on anticipated loss of life or property damage should the dam fail. In 1999 the Department inspected of 32 of the 41 significant hazard dams in the state and inspected seven low hazard dams on the Woonasquatucket as a result of concerns over dioxin in sediment behind the dams. DEM inspected six other low hazard dams and finalized reports on the 14 high hazard dams. Of 32 significant hazard dams, 21 had at least one component rated poor, requiring an engineering evaluation and extensive work. DEM mailed results to owners responsible for maintenance and repair and moved forward with engineering evaluation, design and/or reconstruction at state owned dams. These include completing repairs at Dam No. 102 at Olney Pond, in Lincoln Woods State Park, a high hazard dam, award of a contract to complete design of repairs to Dam No. 566 at Bowdish Reservoir, and a contract award for engineering evaluation of Dam No. 108 at Stillwater Reservoir, a high hazard dam.

The Davis tire pile in Smithfield represents the largest single environmental threat in Rhode Island. If the tires were to ignite, they would release large quantities of liquid oil into the water and oily soot into the air. In 1999 DEM removed 1.85 million tires from the pile. About four million tires have been removed since 1997. In 1999, when the dedicated tire fund was depleted, DEM petitioned the Superior Court, who ruled that the Department was correct in its interpretation that the OSPAR statute allowed tire removal from the Davis site as a preventive measure. Removal of tires continues.