Department of Health rejects Foster farm’s kitchen license because it has concerns about possible contamination from a neighboring salvage yard that sits on the banks of a tributary to the Scituate Reservoir
By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
FOSTER, R.I. — The expansion of Legend’s Creek Farm’s business to include the baking and selling of bread has been delayed for a year by a neighboring salvage yard that is operating without state or town approval.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) denied the Mill Road farm a license because the public well that would need to be sunk — it would be the third well on the property — faces possible contamination from stormwater and groundwater pollution from Wright’s Auto Parts.
To expand the farm’s operation to include food production, DOH regulations require the installation of a new well that qualifies as a “public water supply.” However, the farm’s proximity to what has essentially been an under-regulated operation in rural Foster for six decades is impeding the farmers’ business dreams.
The engineering firm hired to locate the best place for the required well, Exeter-based Northeast Water Solutions Inc., originally decided on a spot some 1,700 feet from the neighboring junkyard. Northeast Water Solutions has since filed a revised plan, which has been under DOH review since late last year.
“It was really shocking to us that the Department of Health thought this junkyard posed a major threat to our well, but nobody from the state has been willing to do anything to address the threat the junkyard poses to the Scituate Reservoir,” said Jon Restivo, a commercial real-estate attorney and partner at DarrowEverett in Providence.
He noted that aerial photographs — one from 2014 and one from 2018 — show that the junkyard has cleared land to store more vehicles “basically right on top of wetlands.”
Restivo and his husband, Aden Mott, bought the 52-acre property in 2015 from the estate of one of the inventors of Droll Yankees tubular bird feeders and named it Legend’s Creek Farm after one of their Australian shepherds.
The farm has a small herd of dairy goats — their milk is used to make soap, lotions, candles, and salves — beehives for the sale of honey, and a llama named Henry. Mott and Restivo grow, sell, and store vegetables for year-round use. The couple’s expansion plans include bread making and cows. The farm has one part-time employee, but there are plans to hire a few more workers.
Restivo, a North Providence native, said it’s frustrating that three state agencies — the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Department of Business Regulation, and DOH — have done little to help their farm business grow besides putting up obstacles, ignoring e-mails and voicemails, and/or giving them the runaround while a neighboring business operates without approval and in possible violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
“When it’s taken a year to get permission to bake bread, but it takes no time at all to operate at junkyard in violation of state laws, local laws … clearly the state has a much higher interest in regulating things like food production,” he said. “And to have the Department of Health say that this is a potential threat to water quality that the junkyard could possibly contaminate the well. I understand why that might be a concern, but it’s (Wright’s Auto Parts) also located 50 feet away from a stream that feeds the Scituate Reservoir. If it’s a concern for our well, then it should also be a concern for everyone else’s water.”
Restivo said tests on the water quality of the property’s two other wells showed an elevated level of iron and they probably wouldn’t meet water-quality standards for a food-related business, even though the water the wells produce is safe to drink.
He did single out one person at the state level for his efforts and support, Ken Ayers, chief of DEM’s Division of Agriculture. He “reached out to the Department of Health on our behalf to support our well application.”
Lack of enforcement
Last month Restivo filed a notice of intent to file suit against the owners of Wright’s Auto Parts for violations of the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of any pollutant by any person into waters of the United States except in compliance with a permit.
The Feb. 25 notice of intent, filed on Restivo’s behalf by DarrowEverett attorney Nicholas Hemond, claims Wright’s Auto Parts doesn’t possess the infrastructure necessary to store, clean, dismantle, or crush any of the vehicles or parts in a manner that “would ensure that precipitation is not contaminated by coming into contact with motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts.”
Besides being sent to Wright’s Auto Parts, the notice was also delivered to DEM, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the attorney general’s office, and the governor’s office.
Hemond wrote that concern Wright’s Auto Parts could be a potential source of groundwater contamination for a Legend’s Creek Farm well would be mitigated if the junkyard were in compliance with the Clean Water Act. He concluded that stormwater discharges from the facility “have consistently violated and continue to violate” the Clean Water Act and “present a direct threat” to the Scituate Reservoir, the Barden Reservoir, and Hemlock Brook.
Hemlock Brook runs between Legend’s Creek Farm and Wright’s Auto Parts. The brook feeds directly into the Barden Reservoir, a tributary reservoir for the Scituate Reservoir, the drinking-water supply for some 60 percent of Rhode Island.
Along its journey to Barden Reservoir, Hemlock Brook is at times no more than 50 feet from junk stored at Wright’s Auto Parts.
Restivo said he is hoping the notice of intent forces DEM to step up its enforcement action against the salvage yard.
“Where are the consequences?” he asked. “I can’t think of any other industry where they would let them continue to operate for eight months without a license. This is a massive junkyard right on the banks of this river that feeds directly into the state’s reservoir.”
The junkyard’s town license wasn’t renewed last year and its state license expired last June. Foster town clerk Susan Dillon told ecoRI News that Wright’s Auto Parts, at the time its application came up for renewal, held some 2,000 vehicles and the maximum amount it should be storing is 500.
She also noted that the property’s live-fence screening had grown tall, lost its lower branches, and didn’t provide screening from the road and that the abandoned house on the property needed to be secured. Dillion also said the state fire marshal has cited the business.
At a June 14, 2018 Foster Town Council meeting — one of many hearings held before and since concerning the license for Wright’s Auto Parts — the town’s assistant building official, Mark Horner, said the business is addressing the fencing issue and had painted and boarded up the property’s vacant house.
Even though both the town and the Department of Business Regulation are aware that Wright’s Auto Parts — the listed owner is Morris Maglioli — is continuing to operate without required licenses, neither has taken any formal enforcement actions against the owners. The Department of Business Regulation lists the status of Wright’s Auto Parts as inactive.
ecoRI News reached out to Wright’s Auto Parts for comment but received no response.
On Dec. 21 of last year, DEM sent Wright’s Auto Parts a letter of non-compliance, after an inspection of the 30-acre property found several hazardous-waste violations, including not being licensed to operate a solid-waste management facility.
The 37 Mill Road business was also cited for storing mercury-containing devices for more than a year and for having nearly 170 cubic yards of solid waste on the property, including 10 boats in varying states of disrepair and more than 480 used tires — an unlicensed facility can only dispose of up to 3 cubic yards of solid waste. The inspector also saw evidence that solid waste was being openly burned — a smoldering burn barrel holding an oil filter and ash was found.
Last year’s DEM inspection of the property didn’t address any possible wetland or stormwater violations.
When the DEM official originally arrived to inspect the property, on Aug. 15, 2018, he was denied access by William L. Ricci Jr., owner of Mill Road Realty Associates LLC. The LLC owns the land on which Wright’s Auto Parts operates. Nearly a month later, on Sept. 10, 2018, Ricci allowed an inspector access. Mill Road Realty Associates is a disregarded entity, according to the secretary of state’s office.
State law allows an authorized DEM representative to enter any hazardous-waste management facility or any place the state agency has reason to believe hazardous wastes are generated, stored, treated, or disposed of to conduct an inspection.
The three-page letter of non-compliance gave the salvage yard 60 days to have any universal waste stored for more than a year shipped off-site and all solid waste removed and disposed of at a licensed facility. The business also was told to immediately cease the burning of solid waste.
Failure to comply is likely to result in additional enforcement actions, according to DEM’s Dec. 21, 2018 letter. It’s been more than 60 days since the letter was received and an agency spokesman recently told ecoRI News that the matter will be re-examined.
“The company received our non-compliance notice on 12/29/18 and that’s when the 60-day clock started ticking. That put our deadline at about March 1. We’re in the process of scheduling a follow-up inspection to determine compliance,” DEM’s Michael Healey wrote in a March 6 e-mail.
Restivo was told March 7 by a Department of Business Regulation official that an inspection was conducted on March 5. He was told “appropriate action will be taken by the Department.”
In 2016, Wright’s Auto Parts filled out a DEM self-certification checklist for junkyards. Wright’s Auto Parts dismantles motor vehicles and sells the parts.
In its self-certification filling, which ecoRI News has a hard copy of, Wright’s Auto Parts noted that there were about 1,400 vehicles stored on the property, with some 520 received and about 50 removed annually. On one page it claimed that vehicles are taken to another site to be crushed, but on another page it said residual liquid from any vehicles crushed on-site is properly managed.
At the June 14, 2018 Foster Town Council meeting, Ricci said (the hearing starts at the 12:16 mark) there were about 2,600 vehicles on the property and he was trying to “crush as many cars as possible” and “get as many cars out of the yard as possible.”
Ricci told the council that in the three months prior to this hearing 225 cars had been removed, but time had been lost because of an accident.
“I lost two weeks of scrapping because one of my guys put a gas tank in a car that it wasn’t supposed to be put in so they had an explosion at Sims processing, so they wouldn’t pick up cars for two weeks,” Ricci said.
When asked by a council member, he admitted that 10 cars had been brought into the facility during those same 90 days.
The operation’s 2016 checklist noted that batteries, mercury switches, tires, antifreeze, and lead parts are removed from the vehicles on-site. The facility collects about 500 lead acid batteries annually, according to the checklist.
Wright’s Auto Parts said it removes air-conditioner units from vehicles and that Freon is properly recovered and recycled, but notes that its technicians aren’t EPA certified nor does it use EPA-approved refrigerant recovery equipment.
Despite storing its vehicles and most of its junk outside, some of it close to the banks of Hemlock Brook and neighboring wetlands, Wright’s Auto Parts told DEM neither precipitation nor runoff comes in contact with any of the facility’s activities or materials. The business hasn’t submitted a pollutant discharge elimination system application.
Restivo said he and Mott offered to buy Wright’s Auto Parts, but were rebuffed. They said they would have had the 30-acre property remediated and a solar facility installed, if the site was compatible for such a use.
“We’re trying to comply with the regulations, and we’re being told, no, and they’re allowed to continue operating out of compliance with regulations and nobody does anything about it,” Restivo said. “It incentivizes not complying. Why even bother hiring the engineer and going through the entire process?”