Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pollution, Interrupted

Persistence of the Baykeeper Pays Off

by Jonathan Stone, executive director

Good things don’t happen by accident. In the case of Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM), hard work and persistence by Save The Bay’s BayKeeper finally paid off.

RIRM will no longer be crushing cars up against the shore of the Providence River at its 484 Allens Avenue scrapping site. The company will no longer be dragging piles of dirty, rusting scrap metal through the contaminated soils of its waterfront property. Contaminated mud produced by the company’s operations every time it rains will no longer be flowing, unabated, into our beautiful Bay. RIRM can no longer accept old, decrepit ships and let them sink to the bottom of the Bay. Nor can they drag those rusting heaps up over the unprotected shore to be cut apart, spilling their foul contents into the Bay. They are no longer allowed to process metals on this site, nor on their other unimproved and un-permitted facility at 278 Allens Avenue. For now, at least, the dirtiest scrap operation on the Bay has been ordered, by Superior Court, to cease most of the operations that have been polluting Narragansett Bay for more than five years. 

That’s because the Rhode Island attorney general’s office and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are finally cracking down on the polluter. But the truth is, the attorney general’s action against RIRM would not have happened had not Save The Bay’s BayKeeper and advocacy team diligently pursued the case for more than five years. The BayKeeper, charged with monitoring water quality and scouting for pollution, played a critical role in prompting legal action. 

Back in 2010, after observing oil spills on the Bay coming from RIRM scrapping operations, our BayKeeper first reported to RIDEM that RIRM was violating the Clean Water Act. RIDEM staff were unaware of the blatant violations of the law, including un-permitted car crushing and processing, lack of stormwater controls, modifications to the shoreline, in-water shipbreaking and expansion to another nearby Bay-front site without permits.

As RIDEM’s lack of staff and resources delayed enforcement and allowed violations to continue for years, our BayKeeper, Tom Kutcher, and staff environmental attorney Kendra Beaver, who joined us in 2014, relentlessly pressed RIDEM to enforce the Clean Water Act. Their determined and time-consuming efforts have included frequent emails to RIDEM staff documenting violations with descriptions, photographs, and videos from the water and land; written comments on permits; numerous file searches of RIDEM and Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) files to build the enforcement case; bringing RIDEM Enforcement staff to the shore side of the site by boat to observe violations firsthand; and petitioning RIDEM to conduct inspections of the sites at critical times. 

Tom also kept the press informed about the egregious pollution problems at the RIRM site to help spur RIDEM to take action. Interviews and reporter visits to the site by water resulted in numerous feature articles from several news outlets, including two front-page articles in the Providence Journal. 

During the brutal winter months this year, Tom was on the water, directing the US Coast Guard to an oil spill leaking from a RIRM vessel in the Providence River. His initiative resulted in legal action by the Coast Guard, bolstering the case being developed by RIDEM and the attorney general’s office. In fact, the BayKeeper’s work was highlighted in the findings of a recent House resolution calling upon the RIDEM to take action against this polluter. This case exemplifies the critical role our BayKeeper plays in our advocacy work.

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