Somerset Residents Win Battle to Remove Scrap-Metal Operation on Mount Hope Bay
April 12, 2022
SOMERSET, Mass. — When a thick layer of rust-colored dust began coating dog bowls and children’s swimming pools around Mount Hope Bay, residents knew what to blame: a nearby scrap-metal operation.
The Brayton Point Commerce Center (BPCC), on a peninsula surrounded by Mount Hope Bay between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, had hosted a coal-fired power plant that generated electricity to area homes and businesses for 50 years. In 2018, the site was sold to Commercial Development Company Inc. (CDCO), a brownfields development company, with an intention to add to the region’s growing offshore wind energy sector. But when that project was delayed, a scrap-metal operator rented much of the site.
Holly McNamara, a former member of the Somerset Board of Selectmen, said Brayton Point’s original wind facility plans were delayed due to the Trump administration’s efforts to stop offshore wind projects.
“They imposed environmental review delays, significant delays,” she said. “So, the [CDCO] says they’re spending millions of dollars cleaning up the site, preparing for wind. But we need to, in the meantime, find a way to break even and keep our site alive and, you know, make a little bit of money.’”
Denise Munroe had a front-row seat, through her living room window, onto a long pier where scrap-metal boats were loaded. She described the smell of the scrap metal as “diesel mixed with kerosene,” and she believes it caused a frightening allergy attack in her daughter after they walked along the waterfront one night.
“We had to stop because my daughter is allergic to metals and she [developed hives] from head to toe. She couldn’t breathe,” Munroe said. “She had to take a shower, use a nebulizer and had to take Benadryl every four hours. Now, when they’re working, she doesn’t even go outside.”
Munroe said while the site was in operation, she heard the clanking, crashing and screeching of metal at all hours of the night.
“It’s so loud,” she said. “You jump out of your skin because they literally just toss metal around. We used to go down to the waterfront all the time, we used to hang out in the backyard. I love my yard, but during the day when they’re working, absolutely not. I do everything in my power not to be around here.”
She struggled with the dust from the site as well.
“The dust is horrendous. There’s times we go outside and can just taste it in the air,” Munroe said.
BPCC and CDCO did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Resident Kathy Souza started a Facebook group in 2019 for people who were experiencing issues caused by the site. The group has since amassed more than 4,000 members.
When the wind energy project was first announced, Souza, the director of environmental health and safety at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., said she was “thrilled.” But in late 2019, when demolition at the site began, she said she noticed a scrap-metal pile at the end of a nearby pier that seemed to grow continuously.
“We thought there’s no way that much metal came out of the [demolition],” Souza said. “One day there was a truck driver picking up scrap metal in the middle of the road, and I asked him if he was bringing material in or out, and he said he was bringing it in and that a major scrap-metal operation had begun on the property. I was floored.”
She and her neighbors began emailing local and state officials to find out what was happening. They heard crashing metal at all hours of the night, found dust covering their property, and spotted large trucks speeding through town.
“They barrel down Brayton Point Road,” Munroe said. “They’re fully loaded with scrap metal. A child walks in front of them or falls off the sidewalk — there’s a park right there — those trucks are not stopping. Somebody is going to get killed.”
Dozens of posts on the Facebook page related specifically to pollution. Chunks of scrap metal and debris were spotted in and near the water. Residents posted photos of rocks and shells pulled from the bay covered in orange dust.
In November 2020, the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals implemented a cease-and-desist order, but it was lifted a month later.
Souza and her neighbor Nancy Thomas filed an appeal, saying the building commissioner, acting as an enforcement officer, did not have the authority to lift the cease-and-desist order. Minutes from a March 1, 2021 meeting reported the zoning board granted Souza’s request to reinstate the order.
CDCO filed suit against Souza, Thomas, the Zoning Board of Appeals and Nicole McDonald in order to continue operating the scrap-metal business. During the week of Nov. 15 last year, Souza and the defendants met in Land Court, which hears cases involving real estate and land use. About 16 residents testified over the five-day trial. Souza said the community donated money to bus residents to Boston to speak at the trial, and local business Enlightenings offered space for elderly residents to testify via Zoom.
The judge ruled the company could not operate between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and said the operation would have to reduce the number of trucks driving through town.
But that wasn’t enough for Souza, Thomas and the other residents. They continued their efforts to stop the scrap-metal operation, and on March 7, Land Court Judge Robert B. Foster ruled in favor of the Somerset residents and ordered all scrap-metal operations at Brayton Point had to stop within 14 days.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Munro said. “It’s amazing that I can open my windows again. It’s amazing that I can enjoy my home again. It’s amazing that my dogs are not hiding anymore; they want to be outside.”
“We’re only going to accept environmentally friendly companies,” said Souza, who now sits on the Somerset Board of Selectmen. “We aren’t a disposable neighborhood. You don’t get to pollute us just because you’ve polluted us before.”