A Hummel Report Investigation
After years of having a metals recycling company violate orders from the state to keep contaminants from running into the Providence River, the Rhode Island Attorney General finally filed suit against the company last year. Why didn’t the state crack down sooner? Jim Hummel speaks with Save the Bay, which has monitored the situation for seven years and says the case could have been avoided. Plus: did former House Speaker Gordon Fox play a role in protecting the company?
Click here to view the Attorney General's lawsuit against RIRM.
Click here to view the 1/12/2012 email from Janet Coit.
Save the Bay’s Tom Kutcher spends a lot of time on the water. As the organization’s Baykeeper, one of his jobs is to identify and respond to environmental threats.
When he took the job four years ago, Rhode Island Recycled Metals on Allens Avenue was front and center on Kutcher’s radar screen.
Kutcher: ``They’ve been operating full-scale out of compliance for a long time.’’
And that, Kutcher says, has been bad news for the Providence River.
Kutcher: ``Not in compliance means that every time it rains everything washes through that scrap pile, picks up a bunch of pollution, washes off what was a contaminated site with a use restriction for PCBs, which is really carcinogenic, washes through that mud and out into the bay.’’
We first told you about Rhode Island Recycled Metals in early 2012, when the company had already ignored orders from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to correct storm water and hazardous material violations.
The state’s Coastal Resources Management Council granted the Massachusetts-based company a permit in 2009 with a focused mission: to scrap the Juliette 484 - a Russian Submarine that had been turned into a museum upriver, but sank during a storm two years earlier.
The operation quickly evolved - without permission - into an on-the-shore recycling, car crushing and scrap operation.
The DEM sent inspectors repeatedly to the facility, but the state’s bark wasn’t backed up with much bite.
So was the company getting protection - from either the governor’s office or the General Assembly? The Hummel Report has obtained a 2012 email from DEM Director Janet Coit saying she had gotten a call from then-Speaker Gordon Fox’s office about Rhode Island Recycled Metals, as well as three calls from its owner Edward Sciabba.
She asked for an internal meeting before getting together with Fox later that week. She noted…``a lot of care has gone into how we handle this to allow the business to maintain its operations, and to evaluate with care impacts on the quality of the bay.’’
Through a spokeswoman Coit tells us his week she does remember getting a call from someone in the Speaker’s office inquiring about the status of the company and asking that she meet with the owner. But, the director added, she never met with Fox or was pressured by him or his office about the case.