Attorney General: Efforts to Bring Rogue Providence Metals Recycler Into Compliance Making Progress
May 31, 2023
PROVIDENCE — Eight years into the legal battle to have a controversial waterfront scrap yard on Allens Avenue follow the law, the Rhode Island attorney general says progress has been made.
In a May 24 letter to those concerned about Rhode Island Recycled Metals’ illicit operations along the city’s industrial waterfront, Peter Neronha wrote that over the past 13 years the state “has invested a great deal of time mounting a concerted legal effort to bring the RIRM site into compliance with all environmental laws.”
Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM), 434 Allens Ave., began polluting in 2009 when it opened without all of the required permits. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the state took legal action against the business.
The following is a look at timeline of events, according to the attorney general’s office:
2010: The state Department of Environmental Management inspected the RIRM site and found unpermitted discharges of stormwater associated with industrial activity, scrap metal recycling.
During multiple inspections between 2010 and 2012, DEM found, among other things, that RIRM was conducting unauthorized vessel crushing and dismantling, which had not been requested by the business in its DEM-approved stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) and its associated multisector general permit (MSGP) for industrial stormwater discharges. These activities provide greater risk of oil spills and other contamination and needed to be approved by DEM before being conducted on the site, according to the attorney general’s office.
RIRM continued to improperly dismantle vessels on the site after inspectors alerted them to the problem, according to Neronha.
2012: DEM issued a notice of violation (NOV) in May. Throughout the next year, RIRM sought permit revisions and revised SWPPPs, but also relayed to DEM its plan to dismantle four vessels: a sunken barge, tugboat, ferry, and submarine.
2013: In July, DEM and RIRM entered into an administrative consent agreement to resolve the NOV. RIRM agreed to comply at all times with its MSGP, to complete all the work identified by DEM during its water quality certificate review, and agreed to commence removal of the four vessels by Nov. 1, 2013, have removal completed by Sept. 30, 2014, and restore the shoreline by Dec. 31, 2014.
2015: By March, RIRM had not completed any of the agreed upon work and the attorney general’s office, together with DEM, filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court requesting injunctive relief to compel RIRM to comply with DEM’s order.
The complaint set forth RIRM’s egregious violations of Rhode Island and federal environmental law, according to the attorney general’s office. Shortly thereafter, the state filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which requested the court to restrain the defendants from receiving any further solid waste; depositing material on the site; disturbing surface or shore by moving equipment; hauling a vessel onto the location; excavating on the site; and transporting any material on the property, removing of equipment, or entering, operating, or managing the site in any way, with exceptions.
The TRO was granted by the court on March 20. Subsequently, the parties entered into a consent order, which provided conditional permission to finish scrapping vessels onsite but prohibited any additional intake of cars and vessels and any alteration of the shoreline. On April 17, the court entered an interim preliminary injunction requiring RIRM to complete certain actions and further enjoining RIRM from taking in certain materials.
2016: By January of the following year, RIRM again had demonstrated its inability and unwillingness to comply with lawful orders, including the consent order, according to Neronha. The attorney general’s office and DEM filed a petition for the appointment of a receiver to take control of the operations away from current management and require the court to impose management that would, at minimum, adhere to court’s orders.
In July, instead of granting this receivership, the court appointed a special master, Richard J. Land, to oversee the remediation. In so doing, the court curtailed DEM’s ability to act outside of the special master framework, prohibiting DEM from “commenc[ing] or caus[ing] to be commenced any environmental administrative or enforcement actions against the Defendants or their assets without first having notified the Special Master of Plaintiffs’ intentions and the basis therefor, and affording the Special Master an opportunity to bring such matter(s) before this Court with such reasonable notice as the Special Master deems necessary or appropriate under the circumstances.”
2017: In July, the court found each party in contempt of earlier court orders — RIRM because it had failed to comply with a May 16 order of the court adjudging it in contempt, and DEM because it had carried out an inspection in the May 16 order without the adequate prior notice required by an earlier order.
The special master has reported there have been a number of hurdles to clear regarding the removal of the vessels, ranging from the technical (certain methods, once attempted, proved ineffective) to the bureaucratic (RIRM has rarely, without prompting, applied for the requisite permits from non-DEM entities, often resulting in lengthy delays). At one point, a third-party’s abandoned barges impeded the removal of one of the RIRM vessels, and subsequent orders related to the removal and motions for contempt were required to ultimately remove those additional two barges.
2018: Three vessels remained — the ferry, the tugboat, and the submarine. DEM and the AG’s office continued to object to RIRM’s requests for extensions and to enforce deadlines contained in court orders. Eventually, the ferry was removed in August, with the submarine closely behind that fall.
2021: Progress once again stalled. The AG’s office and DEM again moved for contempt, a motion that has never been ruled on, according to Neronha. Instead, further extensions were granted, and many technical and legal impediments arose with respect to the removal of the tugboat. The most environmentally friendly methods of removal did not work, and additional approvals have been needed, most recently from Coastal Resources Management Council and the Army Corps of Engineers, before the alternate approach can be undertaken.
While these removal efforts were underway, RIRM made no progress on the land-side remediation plan. Part of the challenge was that the removal of the submarine was anticipated to (and did) further damage the land in question. However, another part of the challenge is that RIRM has done nothing to comply with any of the court orders without extensive and protracted litigation efforts, according to the attorney general’s office.
2023: This spring, RIRM met its first milestone in its development of a land-side remediation plan. To ensure progress continues, the AG’s office and DEM have petitioned the court to impose standing fines of $500 a day for missed deadlines and to require RIRM to pre-fund the escrow account to a level sufficient to complete the remediation and removal of Tugboat 1.
Additionally, this past week, the parties filed with the court a consent order that requires weekly special master site visits, more detailed information on progress and site conditions in RIRM’s weekly reports, and a designated compliance officer to conduct on-site inspections, daily, on all days that the facility is operating, to ensure compliance with all court orders.
Despite all of RIRM’s failures, the court has permitted RIRM to continue part of its business, along with requirements to pay money into escrow with the court to fund remediation.
“We continue to evaluate additional legal measures that can be brought to bear to ensure RIRM’s compliance with state and federal environmental laws,” Neronha wrote. “RIRM has not made any new applications to use additional land or to expand its business in any way. Given our concerns regarding RIRM’s ability to engage as a good corporate citizen, we will evaluate any such application with the highest levels of scrutiny.”