The Hummel Report: An Environmental Threat to the Bay

hummelbaySave the Bay’s Tom Kutcher spends a lot of time on the water. As the organization’s baykeeper, one of his jobs is to identify and respond to environmental threats. When he took the job four years ago, Rhode Island Recycled Metals on Allens Avenue was front and center on Kutcher’s radar screen.

“They’ve been operating full-scale out of compliance for a long time,” said Kutcher. “Not in compliance means that every time it rains, everything washes through that scrap pile, picks up a bunch of pollution, washes off what was a contaminated site with a use restriction for PCBs, which is really carcinogenic, washes through that mud and out into the bay.”

The Hummel Report first focused on Rhode Island Recycled Metals in early 2012, when the company had already ignored orders from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to correct storm water and hazardous material violations.

The state’s Coastal Resources Management Council granted the Massachusetts-based company a permit in 2009 with a focused mission: to scrap the Juliette 484, a Russian submarine that had been turned into a museum upriver but sank during a storm two years earlier. The operation quickly evolved — without permission — into an on-the-shore recycling, car crushing and scrap operation.

The DEM sent inspectors repeatedly to the facility, but the state’s bark wasn’t backed up with much bite.
So was the company getting protection from the governor’s office or the general assembly? The Hummel Report  obtained a 2012 email from DEM director Janet Coit saying she received a call from then-Speaker Gordon Fox’s office about Rhode Island Recycled Metals, as well as three calls from its owner, Edward Sciabba.

She asked for an internal meeting before getting together with Fox later that week. She noted… “A lot of care has gone into how we handle this to allow the business to maintain its operations, and to evaluate with care impacts on the quality of the bay.”

Through a spokeswoman, Coit told us she does remember getting a call from someone in the speaker’s office inquiring about the status of the company and asking that she meet with the owner. But, the director added, she never met with Fox or was pressured by him or his office about the case. The meeting with the speaker she referred to was to discuss upcoming legislation in that year’s session.

“These guys are polluting. There are mechanisms in place to fine them,” Kutcher said. “They’re supposed to have … water discharge permits, they’re supposed to have management in place. They have none of it in place. Fine ‘em. If you sped by the place on Allens Ave you’d get a ticket, right? But you can dump a bunch of pollution into the bay?”

The irony: After nearly seven years, the company still had not removed the Russian sub, the reason it was given permission to open. The sub has been partially dismantled, but remained firmly below the surface of the Providence River when we went out with Kutcher.

He said it’s particularly frustrating since the Narragansett Bay Commission is spending upward of a billion dollars in three phases for a storm water containment system that has dramatically improved water quality in the Providence River and Narragansett Bay.

Ten months ago the attorney general’s office finally got involved, filing suit against the company. The case was assigned to Judge Michael Silverstein who issued several directives last year.

“When the court ordered that they needed to remove the boats from the water, they constructed a new ramp, which looks like a three-boat-wide boat ramp that slopes right into the water, right off the site, so every time it rains now, everything is going directly into the Bay,” Kutcher said. “Since the court order.”

Save the Bay’s executive director, Jonathan Stone, says the AG’s involvement was long overdue.

The company did sign a consent decree with the state in 2013 to clean up the property, but Stone says it lacked a key component. In December the state filed a motion for a receiver to take over the company, saying this crane on a barge in the river was leaning over a submerged pipe that carries water across the river to East Providence. The company righted the barge the day before a hearing, and Silverstein continued arguments on whether to appoint a receiver.

But the court did allow an auction of equipment on the site, which has dramatically scaled back its operation.
Kutcher is tired of the delays and excuses.

“I’m aggravated, I’m frustrated. It’s frustrating, because it’s an easy case. It’s a no-brainer.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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