State officials are asking the court to appoint a receiver in their quest to stop pollution from a metal recycling business on the Providence waterfront. The site has been the subject of a years-long battle involving environmental groups and state regulators. The case recently reached a critical turning point.
State lawyers are hoping a receiver will be the answer for a scrap metal yard that’s spilling pollution into Narragansett Bay. They’ve been pursuing legal action against the company Rhode Island Recycled Metals. But before we get to that, some background first:
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management made a deal with Rhode Island Recycled Metals and its landlord in 2013 to clean up a number of problems. They include oil spilling onto the property, polluted storm water flowing into the Providence River, and a compromised protective soil cap potentially releasing toxic chemicals into the air and water.
After two years, the state wasn’t happy with progress on the cleanup, so the state sued jointly with DEM.
“And RI Recycled Metals has done some remediation of the property, certainly not as quickly as the state would like,” said Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, “but they have moved ahead with some remediation of the property on both the land and the waterfront side.”
So there was some improvement at the scrap yard. But then, last month, the state flagged an emergency when a crane mounted on a barge in the river began tilting, or listing.
“And it was listing so that if it toppled over into the water, there was a chance that it could damage the pipeline that goes from Providence to East Providence that carries the main drinking water pipeline for the City of East Providence,” explained Kempe.
Kempe said the barge has been leveled and no longer poses an immediate threat to the East Providence water supply. But the state is still worried about derelict and sunken vessels connected to Rhode Island Recycled Metals. The concern is that those vessels could float away or shift into the bay during a hurricane.
Under that scenario, the East Providence water pipeline could be vulnerable again, according to state attorneys. And so would a fuel depot and other facilities along the harbor.
Kempe said that’s what prompted the state to ask for a court-appointed receiver to “take it out of the hands of the owners and operators and allow a third party, an independent third-party, to go in there and do what they need to do to address the situation.”
Meaning, the receiver would clean up the site, removing derelict vessels from the waterfront and repairing the compromised soil cap.
Rhode Island Recycled Metals and its lender have objected to a court-appointed receiver (the company's attorney was not available to comment).
Kendra Beaver, an attorney from the environmental group Save The Bay, complains environmental pollution continues at the site.
“It’s all been recorded on land evidenced records, what should not be done," said Beaver. "It continues to happen and there’s no reason for it.”
The judge in the case has yet to make a decision about the receiver, but he did allow an auction to sell off equipment from the scrap yard. The auction took place last month. The case is expected to resume in the coming weeks.