Opinion

Two Different Local Stories Share Familiar Plot of Greed and Destruction

There's a bullseye on the environment and our most exploited communities. (istock)

Two recent news stories from neighboring states aren’t related, but the issues surrounding them are explicitly connected. They clearly show what matters most to so many in our damaged society: greed and destruction. They often go hand in hand.

Last week, in Rhode Island, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 57 alleged that the fill dirt used on the $410 million 6-10 Connector project contains hazardous material. Local 57, a private union working on the project, has accused the development group headed by Canton, Mass.-based Barletta Construction of using thousands of tons of contaminated dirt from sites in Boston and Pawtucket to help rebuild the 1950s highway. (Don’t call it soil. Soil is a healthy mix of organic remains, clay, and rock particles that grows life.)

The union hired a company to test dirt samples from the worksite and the results showed elevated substances that cause cancer. The 6-10 Connector travels through six neighborhoods.

In a letter late last month to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation director, the union’s president noted one chemical was found to be more than double the acceptable limits and another was found to be more than four times the acceptable limits.

Laboratory results paid for by the union contradict separate test results provided to the state by Barletta Construction. The union president has claimed that’s because the material used in those tests came from a stash that differed from the Boston and Pawtucket locations.

The union boss said he traced the dump trucks delivering fill to the 6-10 project back to their source and discovered that the material came from an MBTA commuter rail train station project in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and the site of the new Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail station and bus hub. Barletta is also the primary developer of that $47 million Rhode Island project.

If the allegation isn’t true, that would be a stunning development. Cheating the system and putting public health at risk to make an extra buck is the other definition of vulture capitalism. Examples of this practice are too numerous to count. It’s why loophole-proof regulation and competent enforcement are needed. The free market can’t be trusted.

The union’s allegation was strong enough that the two largest police unions in Rhode Island asked to no longer work details on the 6-10 Connector project.

Sixty-plus miles away from Providence, the National Guard is hoping to build Massachusetts’ first machine-gun range, at Joint Base Cape Cod. The eight-lane range would require the clear-cutting of some 170 acres of forestland, or about a quarter of the military installation’s land.

The National Guard has said the range is necessary to provide weapons training to soldiers without sending them 270 miles north to Vermont. To the surprise of no one, the National Guard has concluded that the environmental impact of the proposed machine-gun practice facility would be “less than significant.”

Based on its environmental assessment, the National Guard says impacts from the range “would be less than significant on land use and cover, air quality and climate, noise, soils, groundwater, biological resources, infrastructure, and hazardous and toxic materials and wastes.”

That is likely the case if one ignores the facts that the range would: fragment the largest forest ecosystem on Cape Cod; damage wildlife habitat that is home to 34 threatened and endangered species, although some of those species would likely prefer the grassland as long as they could survive the gunfire; diminish a natural resource that sequesters carbon dioxide; and vandalize a climate-crisis buffer.

The National Guard wants to trade all those free ecosystem services for the ability to practice killing people closer to home. A four-hour ride to Vermont a handful of times a year is too inconvenient.

As wildfires ravage California and the Pacific Northwest and the coronavirus rages across the country, the National Guard, in lockstep with a government that has long prioritized endless war for political gain, clamors for more destruction to keep us safe.

If the inequitable business-as-usual approach is followed, the machine-gun range will be built and, if the contaminated dirt allegation is proven true, the development group will be assessed a paltry fine, will appeal it, and then never pay it.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.

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  1. This is very depressing news that still greed and destruction still wins out over the health and welfare of humanity and our environment and that government lets it happen. I use the 6/10 connector to drive to work on occasion, but after reading this who knows what I am breathing in and will be taking a different route from now on.
    Thank you for reporting this.

  2. Alas, the Commonwealth of Mass. staffers trying so hard to protect Joint Base Cape Cod, who’ve overseen the feds’ $375MM spend, who long to sequester the Cape’s fragile species, are the same Mass. DEP gurus who always kiss the ring of Environmental Liability Transfer, Inc. ELT is who has systematically imported half a million tons’ contaminated scrap metal from legendary hell holes like Sparrow’s Point, Md. (Where last year’s annual toxins inventory by Maryland Dept. of the Environment came to 3,774 pages for 2,700 topsoil acres: no typo.)
    What’s worse? Guess who owns the wharf where water jets from crane-mounted fire hoses, percussing loose the antique industrial coatings and crud of the US Navy or Bethlehem Steel? The Commonwealth of Massachusetts! Is there a lease for the 740-foot “Quay and Bulkhead”? Nope: the last one belonged to the power plant, which the property’s current owners demolished after they rolled in in 2018. Pus, it was specific to activities directly linked to power-generation.
    Well, who are the state’s enforcers for environmental regulations that affect Brayton Point, its four-river waterway, and pur regional aquifer? Um. That would be, ahhh… The Mass. DEP Southeast Office, a.k.a. Ring-Kissers Central.

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