By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A judge is taking another step in the ineffective, multiyear effort to crack down on a scrap-metal yard that has been polluting the industrial waterfront and the Providence River since 2009.
On July 27, Superior Court judge Michael Silverstein appointed a special master to oversee the cleanup of Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM), which sits atop a brownfield site at 434 Allens Ave. Local attorney Richard Land will investigate the site and create a clean-up plan that includes covering exposed and contaminated soil. But, so far, the business has flagrantly ignored previous attempts to stop polluting and clean the site and waterfront. Monitoring wells on the property have been torn out, according to court proceedings.
The 6-acre scrap-metal processing facility was contaminated during the 1980s by a computer and electronics shredding company that conducted its operations on bare soil. The site has tested positive for toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), a carcinogen commonly used in electronics. The site was capped after some of the contaminants were removed. The lot sat unused until the scrap-metal yard opened in 2009.
The current and previous owners never received permits from the city or the state Department of Environmental Management to operate a scrap yard, when the site was purchased in 2006. In 2009, RIRM opened as a car-crushing yard and in June of that year received a temporary permit from the Coast Resources Management Council (CRMC) to dismantle the Cold War-era Russian submarine Juliette. Without permission, RIRM began accumulating additional boats and barges to dismantle.
RIRM has been cited by DEM for disturbing the soil cap at the site with trucks and heavy machinery, in addition to releasing pollutants from dismantled vehicles into the soil and Providence River.
In addition to the hull of the Juliette, RIRM keeps a sunken tugboat, the partially sunken ferry Boston Belle, two steel barges, two hopper barges and their contents, and the partially submerged vessel Fishhawk.
In 2010, DEM began issuing violation notices for disrupting the soil cap and failing to manage runoff into the Providence River.
In 2011, CRMC issued a cease-and-desist order, which RIRM ignored. Lacking any enforcement protocols, DEM persuaded RIRM in 2013 to agree to clean the site, install a stormwater collection system and oil containment booms, and remove the vessels. RIRM never complied. In 2015, DEM and the state attorney general took RIRM to Superior Court to enforce the 2013 agreement. Again, RIRM did little to fulfill the cleanup.
RIRM’s general manager Edward Sciaba Jr. has made numerous promises to comply with the agreement and clean the site and waterfront. He didn't respond to requests for comment.
In addition to the site at 434 Allens Ave., RIRM opened a second metals and electronic collection yard on the waterfront, at 278 Allens Ave., also without permits. DEM has sited the facility for storage and stormwater violations.
“The operators of this facility have had more than ample opportunity to clean up this site, yet have chosen to flagrantly violate DEM’s consent agreement and the orders of the court for remediation of the site, polluting our bay, and putting navigation of our channel at risk,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin wrote in a prepared statement.
“We look forward to working with the special master to bring this site into compliance and have a comprehensive site assessment completed to determine the extent of contamination — and ultimately remediate it,” said Janet Coit, DEM’s director.
Coit and Kimartin said the cleanup will be paid by RIRM and the owner AARE LLC.
ecoRI News staff Frank Carini contributed to this report.