Providence’s “active waterfront” is the ugliest and dirtiest scene in the state of Rhode Island. Community members agree it’s time to radically reinvent how Providence uses its 100+ acres of upper Narragansett Bay frontage.

The nature of the activities carried out on the seafront is today irreconcilable with an authentic policy of climate justice. Off-gassing from valves and storage tanks and emissions from the diesel engines of trucks, trains and ships make even a day without an accident a bad day. The entire site is beyond the hurricane barrier and vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges, making the upper part of Narragansett Bay vulnerable to environmental disasters. When we eventually experience an adverse weather event powerful enough to spill products stored at the water’s edge, the bay will be contaminated with a toxic mix of scrap metal, heating oil, jet and diesel fuel, natural gas and Other chemicals, and the neighbors most affected will be vulnerable frontline communities.

Neighboring businesses are not good partners for the city. Rhode Island waterfront tenant Recycled Metals routinely flouts Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management regulations, failing to obtain permits to operate a junkyard at a superfund site laden with toxins and carcinogens underground . Sprague Energy repeatedly fails to prevent its asphalt storage tanks from emitting harmful gases and potentially volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the surrounding community.

Additionally, Sims Metal Management received the state’s heaviest sentence ever for violations of the Clean Air Act, after being found guilty of shredding automobiles and releasing plastic, rubber and other carcinogenic materials from its Johnston plant into the lungs of its employees and neighbors. Sims operates facilities in Johnston and on the Providence waterfront.

These environmental crimes are compounded by proximity to some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities. The industrial nature of the area literally suffocates its neighbors, with South Providence having some of the highest concentrations of airborne diesel particles in the state, in addition to the highest per capita population of young asthmatics in Rhode Island, according to data. of RIDOH. Any political leader who endorses the continued function of the Providence waterfront without modification also endorses the environmental racism that plays out there every day.

In addition, before leaving, polluters must be held responsible for the damage they have caused during their operation. We cannot afford to clean up tomorrow after polluters who know full well the damage they cause today.

Cities on lakes and oceans across America are realizing that their waterfronts are their most valuable assets. After burying a freeway and restoring connection to downtown, Boston’s Seaport district has transformed from a vast wasteland of abandoned docks and parking lots to one of Boston’s prime residential areas, a hotspot for Fortune 500 companies and startups, and a top destination for world travelers. Milwauk at an economical cost: done correctly, it will bring great gains.

I understand that local businesses support local jobs. Workers displaced by the relocation of polluting companies should be connected to similar employment at the growing port of Davisville, which runs on 100% renewable energy and is just 20 minutes south, or elsewhere in the area. growing Rhode Island manufacturer.

Providence has officially codified the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Unfortunately, the truth remains that we can’t just build solar panels and wind turbines to achieve that goal. We cannot allow waterfront polluters to operate and expand, and we cannot allow our leaders to choose political expediency and profit-driven myopia over transformational politics. We must act decisively to reclaim Providence’s waterfront from a handful of dirty businesses for the benefit of all who live here.

Providence needs leaders who both understand the urgent need for climate justice and have the political courage to advocate for it. Until then, Providence’s waterfront solutions will be locked away, buried under a pile of jagged cars and rusting metal.

Bradly J. VanDerStad is running for Providence City Council.

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