RICHMOND — After working for six years to transform a vacant property on Buttonwoods Road into the town’s first dog park, a group of volunteers left Tuesday’s Town Council meeting disappointed. The land in question, they were told, sits on part of a former town landfill and the cost of cleaning the site would be prohibitive.
The popular 2-acre park has served as the town’s unofficial dog park, but the large group of dog owners who attended the council meeting urged the council to declare the facility official.
Committee member Victoria Vona explained that her group had organized numerous fundraising activities to buy equipment and accessories for the park. She noted that the park had become a popular gathering place for Richmond residents as well as dog owners from other towns.
“A dog park creates a community center of activity where friends and neighbors gather to socialize and relax,” she said. “Users of the dog park are self-policing, which maintains a cleaner area.”
Julie Lizzio said the park had already undergone several significant improvements.
“We supply all the cleanup bags, the rakes, the scoops,” she said. “We purchased picnic tables and chairs, installed gravel under the tables and by the entry gate. The double entry was donated by the Bullie Fence Company, one of the many residents and nonresidents who support the park. Additional nonresident support is represented by six benches donated to the dog park by the Charlestown Animal Rescue League, which is now part of Stand Up For Animals of Westerly.”
Committee member Gail Fisher presented the council with a petition signed by 300 people, requesting that the park be designated as official.
But the group’s hopes were dashed when Town Planner Juliana Berry detailed the expensive and convoluted process that would have to take place before the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management would permit a permanent town use on a former landfill that has not even been capped.
“Official means permanent,” she said. “We can’t say anything is a permanent reuse of that park without going through the additional steps that DEM requires. The very first expense…to pursue any official use, is a remedial action work plan. We do not have one, and that could cost a consultant to prepare, $50,000, $60,000.”
Capping the landfill, which would have to be done regardless of what the parcel is eventually used for, would cost tens of thousands of dollars more.
Council member Mark Trimmer, a dog owner, said he would be worried about exposure to contaminants at the site.
“I’m concerned about the effects of the people that are using it and the dogs that are using it,” he said.
Public Works Director Scott Barber added that conditions at the site, which now are largely unknown, could change over time.
“Say we get this thing capped and five years later, there’s a change in the air quality or the water quality of this landfill. We don’t know know what it’s going to do. Now, we make this investment, they develop their dog park, and now we’ve got to close it because the air quality’s bad,” he said.
Council members declined the request for official designation, suggesting that the committee explore other locations for a dog park. Possible sites include Beaver River Park, the Heritage Trail, and the 20-acre Kenyon Hill Trail property, which is wooded and would have to be at least partially cleared.
Council President Paul Michaud urged the committee to begin investigating alternatives to the current dog park site.
“I think we’re wasting our time trying to figure out how we’re going fix that place over there on Buttonwoods, where eventually it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, when we can probably find another site in town that the town already owns that can be fixed for way less than that to make it into a dog park,” he said. “Believe me, I’m in favor of a dog park, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think that is the best place for it.”