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Central Falls, R.I., wins case halting addition of 30,000-gallon oil tanks

Western Oil had proposed building nine 35-foot-tall tanks in the northwestern portion of the 1.3-square-mile city

Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera in City Hall.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — Central Falls officials this week celebrated a legal victory that stops Western Oil from adding nine 35-foot-tall, 30,000-gallon oil tanks near a residential area in the northwestern portion of this 1.3-square-mile city.

Superior Court Judge Richard D. Raspallo on Monday denied Western Oil’s appeal of a Central Falls zoning board decision rejecting the company’s request to build the oil tanks on Duchess Way.

Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera issued a statement, saying she was “thrilled” by the ruling. “I joined neighbors and community leaders in opposing this project because it was expanding a nuisance into a residential neighborhood,” she said.

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Western Oil already has eight oil tanks on the property, which is in an industrial zone, and it sought a special use permit and height variance to add nine more tanks in an area that’s within 150 feet of a residential zone, according to court records.

Western Oil argued that an expert in real estate testified the tanks would not impact surrounding property values or change the character of the surrounding area.

“No opponents presented any expert to rebut the testimony of Western Oil’s expert,” the company’s lawyers wrote. “Rather, the zoning board made its decision as to the safety, impact, and secondary effects based on their own premonitions, as well as concerned testimony of neighboring homeowners unqualified to give competent testimony.”

Neighbors had objected to the proposal, raising concerns about odors and an increase in traffic.

Former state Senator Daniel J. Issa, a Central Falls Democrat, said he can see the existing oil containers from his backyard. “Our neighborhood is relieved that this noxious activity will not happen and that the Superior Court upheld the voices of the community,” he said. “Beyond the nuisance, this would have been a danger to Scott Pond and Valley Falls Pond if the tanks ever spilled.”

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City Council President Jessica Vega said no one in Central Falls had supported the proposed expansion.

“We are so happy that the Superior Court made this decision,” she said. “From the odor to the noise to the traffic to the environmental dangers, this was a bad idea from the beginning.”

Nicholas Hemond, the lawyer who argued the case for the city, said he was happy for the neighbors and the zoning board. “A lot of these boards put a lot of work in for no money,” he said. “They do the best they can and they want to make the right decisions for the right reasons. I think they did that here.”

City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk said that if Western Oil appeals Raspallo’s decision, Central Falls “stands ready to continue its fight.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.