EXCLUSIVE: Allens Ave Scrap Yard Exceeds Environmental Standards, Claims Petition

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


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Following the news that the new Paw Sox owners are potentially eyeing the Providence waterfront for a new ballpark, a business owner less than a mile down the street is claiming that an adjacent scrap metal yards presents "a grave public health and safety risk which must be abated." 

In a building next door to the scrap yard at Sims Metal Management (SMM) on Allens Avenue, indoor lead levels for dust were found to be fifty times the EPA limit, according to an independent environmental consultant review.

Now, abutter Providence Piers is petitioning the City Council for an "abatement of the public nuisance," citing state law.  

Providence Piers, is located at 200 Allens Avenue, next to Sims Metal Management (SMM) on 242 Allens Avenue.  Providence Piers commissioned an environmental impact study through OHI Engineering in Mansfield, Massachusetts following losing "virtually all of its tenants due to fugitive dust infiltrating the building," according to its petition. OHI found that the lead concentration in the dust on the window sill in Providence Piers to be 13860 ug/ft squared; the EPA allowable limit is 250 ug/ft squared. 

"Upon reviewing OHI's findings, it is evident that SMM's operations has caused toxic levels of metals to be introduced to the Providence Piers property and surrounding environs," wrote Providence Piers owner Patrick Conley in his petition to the council, which was submitted Monday.  "OHI was able to determine that toxic metals and fugitive dust became airborne and traveled across SMM's property...the metals found in the test samples are hazardous and qualitative similarities provide evidence."

The study, conducted by OHI's Robert Tuomanen, found elevated levels of anthropogenic metals in the soil and on the roof of Providence Piers, including cadmium, which is "classified as a Class B1 carcinogen by the EPA."

"The fugitive dust that has been detected is considerably hazardous and presents a danger to all those in the vicinity, including SMM's employees, healthcare workers, and patients," wrote Conley. "This dust, depending on wind direction, is being blown into East Side and Fox Point neighborhoods, in addition to the Hospital area, downtown, and south Providence.  Pleas to State regulatory agencies have resulted in little action, therefore we turn to you, the elected governing body of the city in which this grave public nuisance exists to abate this public health emergency."

Providence lawyer Mike Kelley, who is representing Providence Piers, said he believed the scrapyard "could be shut down."

"The court and the city has the authority to shut down nuisances, and and junkyards are described in and of themselves as a nuisance," said Kelley.  "This is a private nuisance, which is certainly the case with Dr. Conley at Providence Piers, and we think this is a public nuisance given the harmful contaminants -- the particulates that are leaving the SIMS cite on a daily basis."

Lawyers for SMM did not respond to request for comment on Monday. 

Citing State Law

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The petition, signed by Conley and submitted to the City Council on February 23, cites Rhode Island state law 24-14-1 -- the Junkyard Control Act -- in his appeal for abatement.

The law states under section 24-14-2:

"For the purpose of promoting public safety, health, welfare, convenience, and enjoyment of public travel, to protect the public investment in public highways, and to preserve and enhance the scenic beauty of lands bordering public highways, it is hereby declared to be in the public interest to regulate and restrict the establishment, operation, and maintenance of junkyards in areas adjacent to the interstate and primary highway systems within this state.  The general assembly hereby finds and declares that junkyards which do not conform to the requirements of the chapter are public nuisances."

"Because of the proximity to Rt. 95, by statute and regulation the 242 Allens Avenue site is required to be adequately screened so that no portion of the operation is visible from the main traveled way of the Interstate.  However, that its not the case, and has not been the case, for four years," wrote Conley in his petition.  

"It is the goal of this petition that the City Council put an end to the 242 Allens Avenue SMM operation as being a public nuisance...and stop the intolerable discharge of dust and debris from its burgeoning pile of scrap," concluded Conley.  

The Rhode Island DEM said that over the past three years, it has cited cited SMM for one violation in 2012 and assessed a penalty of $25,000 for that violation.  "The company paid the penalty in full in 2012," noted DEM Spokesperson Gail Mastrati.  

Conley noted in his petition that on June 19, 2014, DEM issued a notice of violation for non-compliance with DEM Air Pollution Control Regulation 5, Fugitive Dust 

"It was a letter of noncompliance, not a notice of violation," said Mastrati. "The company responded by installing sprayers to keep the dust down."

"[That] now simply captures the dust and the droplets of contamination are carried by the wind," wrote Conley.  

City Council to Take Up Petition

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The Providence City Council is expected to take up the petition in March.

The petition by Conley is on the City Council docket for March 5.

"I understand there are some new concerns," said Aponte, who hadn't seen the petition yet on Monday.  "I know there are two or three things in the mix, that Conley has sued Sims, and has put  the state on notice about the nuisance, and having to fence in their scrap."  

"Regarding the scrap metal yard, from a land use perspective, I've never agreed that's the best and highest use for that section of Allens [Avenue]," continued Aponte.  "Those are all actions that could done at Prov Port, with a better foundation, than up on the northern part of Allens [Avenue]."

Aponte said that he would be taking environmental concerns into account. 

"We need to be vigilant about monitoring the health and environmental issues that come along with this," said Aponte.

Conley, who currently had a lawsuit in federal court pending against SIMS, said the council petition was a "stop-gap" measure

"The case has moved slowly, not because of any problems with the justices in the Federal District Court, but just the complexity of the matter," said Conley.  "There is a situation where additional damage is continuing to occur."

Conley said he thought that Sims -- and neighboring Sprague -- could be moved further south down Allens Avenue, which he said would free up 30 acres.  

"Perfect for a ball field, don't you think?  Ferries could bring people in, it's more accessible than what they're talking about up the road," said Conley, of a possible new proposed location of the Rhode Island Red Sox, now that the PawSox have been sold -- which is less than a mile from Providence Piers and Sims.  "I've got no skin in the game, I sold my land to National Grid, all I've got is this building, which is being damaged."


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