By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Since it opened in 2009 atop a former Superfund site on Allens Avenue, Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM) has been polluting upper Narragansett Bay and has been shirking efforts to make it stop.
The latest action is a complaint filed against the scrap metal yard by the Rhode Island attorney general and the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Both agencies say RIRM is discharging polluted stormwater into Providence Harbor. They also accuse the facility of contaminating the waterfront with oil from at least one of the many derelict boats RIRM keeps tethered to the shoreline or lie sunk offshore.
The complaint, recently filed in Providence Superior Court, seeks to have RIRM comply with a 2013 agreement to build a stormwater runoff control system and remove the vessels from the water. DEM and the attorney general also want RIRM to cease its car-crushing operations and install an oil containment boom in the water. As part of the 2013 agreement, RIRM has already paid $25,000 to DEM. The company is now accruing $750 per day in fines for noncompliance and owes at least $12,750.
Old vessels, including a retired Soviet-era submarine and a submerged ferry, continue to decay in the water as they await demolition, according to state officials. One of those vessels, an old tug boat, has been leaking oil into the water and is now the impetus for the state to take RIRM to court. The oil leak was discovered by DEM and the Coast Guard on Jan. 12 and matched to the oil in the tug, according to officials.
For four years, Save The Bay has been documenting the problems while urging DEM to address the issue.
“We’re happy they are taking legal action,” said Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper for Save The Bay.
Kutcher, however, is concerned that the legal action will serve as another of the many warnings and reprimands that have failed to stop the pollution and allowed RIRM to keep its business open.
“It may not be enough to remove the economic benefit from noncompliance,” he said.
One of the defendants in the case, Edward Sciaba Sr., manager of RIRM, didn’t reply to repeated inquiries from ecoRI News.
In a 2012 e-mail to ecoRI News, Sciaba responded to the ongoing accusations and enforcement efforts.
“RIRM takes water pollution and any other types of contamination very seriously at our facility or anywhere we work,” he wrote. “We have an environmental engineering company retained along with a full-time environmental officer on our staff. We have spent over $200,000.00 dollars on our temporary storm water pollution prevention plan.”
In the e-mail, Sciaba directed criticism at Save The Bay’s executive director Jonathan Stone. “Stone’s knowledge of the facility in every aspect is minimal at best. He is more interested in us receiving penalties then helping us address his issues.”
RIRM’s location carries an added environmental risk because it sits on a former Superfund site. Between 1979 and 1989, the 7-acre lot was used to shred computers and electronics. During that time, PCBs and other pollutants leached into the soil from the piles of shredded electronics.
There was no protective cover to shield the piles from precipitation, nor was there a barrier between the soil and piles of scrap electronics. In 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered the PCBs, as well as cadmium, lead and mercury, in the soil and later designated the property a federal Superfund site.
In 1999, 60 percent of the property was excavated and 220 tons of contaminated soil were removed and buried in a landfill. The site was capped with 13 inches of sand and gravel and soil-monitoring wells were installed. In 2000, DEM mandated that the soil can’t be disturbed without written approval.
The property was bought in 2006 by ARC Realty LLC. After a failed attempt to convert the site into a ship-loading facility, RIRM opened a car-crushing yard in 2009. That year, RIRM received authorization from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to dismantle the former Soviet navy submarine Juliet. Built in 1965, the nuclear submarine made its way to Providence in 2002, where it served as a floating museum on the Providence River.
The submarine sunk after a storm in 2007 and was towed down the waterfront to RIRM in 2009. Although CRMC insisted that the submarine be fully dismantled by 2012, it currently sits partially deconstructed while leaking oil and littering debris that looks like foam insulation. The company also has brought in five other vessels for scrap without authorization, according to state officials.
In recent years, DEM has expressed concern that RIRM has disturbed the soil cap and unearthed potentially contaminated soil with heavy equipment and industrial vehicles. Numerous inspections by DEM reveal that portions of the site are covered in pools of suspect liquids, while large ruts of mud threaten to send contaminated water into the river.
Here is a list of other complaints and violations against RIRM:
Operating vehicle-crushing operations without authorization or disclosing the operation.
Stormwater and runoff flowing from the site into the Providence River.
Oil leaking from engines removed from crushed vehicles and other oil spills on the property.
Open containers of hazardous waste.
Unidentified containers of hazardous waste.
Failure to conduct monthly soil testing.
RIRM has between 30 days and six months to comply with various orders in the complaint.