The Johnston Town Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night that requires residents to cover their trash. The council and administration say the ordinance was born out of a growing rodent problem facing certain areas of the town.
“I must have spent half the summer with people in different areas talking about the rat problem. That was their biggest problem,” said District 3 Councilman David Santilli.
While rodents are attracted to damp areas like streams, their primary motivation is to locate a food source. In residential areas, that food comes from trash that is left uncovered, allowing rats to climb into trash bins or feed on items that blow away or spill out.
“If they’re covered, rats won’t be able to get into them,” Santilli said of trash receptacles.
Mayor Joseph Polisena said that the town has no rodent control program due to insurance purposes. This ordinance, however, would give the town power to mitigate the problem.
“It is a problem. A lot of people put their trash out and don’t put their covers on, and then we get calls about rats, rodents or even dogs that get loose. This is a health and safety issue,” Polisena said. “This will help us out in all of our districts.”
While the original ordinance dictated only that trash bins must be covered, Council Vice President Stephanie Manzi suggested adding language that requires trash to be put into bags prior to being placed into the bins. Manzi motioned to amend the ordinance, which was approved by her colleagues.
Resident Robert Joyce sees both benefits and detractors to the plan.
“I agree that the ordinance as proposed does have merit; my concern is maybe the financial burden on some of the residents,” he said.
Joyce used a windy day as an example. If the trash collection agency drops the bin after pick up, the lid could blow away or be damaged, putting additional financial burden on residents to pay for a replacement bin.
“You’re going to force people to go out and buy new trash barrels,” he said.
Manzi agreed that as the town adapts to this new policy, the administration or Department of Public Works would have to sit down with the third party trash removal vendor to explain the new system and urge that they take added caution.
“That’s a conversation we can have. ‘When your men pick up the barrels, set them back nice – don’t throw them,’” she said.
Joyce was likewise concerned that if he were to need a lid replacement, his trash might not be picked up in the meantime. Polisena explained that the way the system would work, is that trash would be picked up as usual. If a bin does not have a cover, the trash removal agency would notify the town. The town would then send out the minimum housing inspector for habitual violators. If violators still neglect to dispose of trash in bags and in covered bins, the town would withhold collection services and potentially implement fines for violation.
The burden, Dist. 2 Councilman Ernest Pitochelli said, should be on the town to implement the policy, rather than the trash removal company.
“The only way to handle this is if the trash collector sees this, they should notify the town. If he reports it, then the town takes the heat,” he said.
An automated trash collection system, like the one in Warwick where residents have uniform covered bins, is an ideal solution to the rodent problem, but Polisena says it is cost prohibitive at this time.
Down the road, that’s exactly what Joyce would like to see happen.
“It’s expensive to implement but it would probably, in the long run, save money,” he said. “It would put everyone on the same page with covered barrels.”
In other council action, an ordinance was approved amending the town code to allow dogs to be off leashes within the Johnston Dog Park. The change came after the town purchased fencing to enclose the park.
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, representatives from the Department of Environmental Management updated the council about their ongoing stormwater management project. The town is currently out of state and federal compliance that requires municipalities to map their stormwater drainage systems.
That will soon change, though.
The town received a roughly $50,000 grant two years ago to pay for a consultant that is putting the town on a geographic information system. At the same time, DEM is using grant money to map the town’s drainage system. Two interns from URI spent the summer using handheld GIS locators to compile data on culverts, outfalls, catch basins and manholes in the town, making note of how and where they connect with other drainage functions. They also indicated where sedimentation, flooding or other challenges faced these drainage systems. Over a five-week period, the DEM interns mapped more than 5,000 points, which will be linked into the GIS system.
These tools will not only bring the town into compliance, but Town Engineer Lori Caruso said they will also allow the town to better respond to drainage and flooding problems going forward.
“It shows us where we can go for the solutions,” she said.