A former employee for a Massachusetts contractor leading the largest design-build project in the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation’s history pleaded not guilty in Providence County Superior Court on Feb. 7 to illegally dumping toxic fill at the Providence-area jobsite. His plea follows a separate Feb. 1 not guilty plea by his former employer, Canton, Mass.-based Barletta Heavy Division Inc.
Barletta and Dennis Ferreira, a former Barletta superintendent, allegedly illegally dumped thousands of tons of contaminated fill on the $410 million Route 6/10 highway interchange project starting in July 2020. Barletta and Ferreira, 62, of Holliston, Mass., were charged by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha on Jan. 18 with two counts of illegal disposal of solid waste, one count of operating a solid waste management facility without a license, and one count of providing a false document to a public official.
Reached by phone, John G. Bulman, Barletta’s inhouse legal counsel declined to comment. Kevin Bristow, Ferreira’s attorney in Providence, could not be reached for comment.
In a statement released after the charges were filed last month, however, Barletta called the allegations “baseless, both legally and factually.”
Barletta is managing $247.6 million for the 6/10 Constructors Joint Venture that began in 2018 and is set to finish by the end of the year. The joint venture includes Barletta, D.W. White, O &G and Aetna Bridge. The project involves reconstruction of the entire 6/10 interchange within the existing highway right of way and rebuilding or removing nine structurally deficient bridges within the project area.
RIDOT would not confirm whether Barletta was still working on the 6/10 project, but said it was building a $5 million parking facility for the Pawtucket/Central Falls Commuter Rail Station project, set for completion in March, and also finishing up final tasks for the rail station.
Barletta potentially faces criminal penalties and millions in fines if calculated at the maximum amount under state law. The firm also faces possible probation and suspended sentences that can be applied to companies.
Neronha alleges in his statement that Barletta and Ferreira used the 6/10 project site “as an environmental dumping ground … Their actions come at the expense of Rhode Islander’s public health and their environment.” In total, Barletta and Ferreira allegedly “authorized the transport of approximately 1,114 tons of contaminated soil” from the Pawtucket-Central Falls site to the 6/10 project site. They also allegedly authorized another 3,460 tons of contaminated stone form a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority project in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston to the 6/10 site.
The criminal charges filed stem from a federal and state investigation led by Neronha’s office, joined by the U.S. Attorney Office for the District of Rhode Island, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the Office of Inspector General, and the Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management (DEM).
The charges follow Ferreira’s guilty plea in federal court to three counts of making a false statement related to a federally funded highway project. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 16. Barletta has agreed to pay a total of $1.5 million to the federal government, according to U.S. Attorney Zacchary Cunha.
The firm says it followed the state-approved soil management plan for transporting and reusing urban fill soils from the 6/10 highway job at other Rhode Island sites. Furthermore, Barletta says the soil and stone transported to the highway project site “was the same in composition and makeup as the urban soil already present in, around and under the 6/10 highway for generations…, a fact that has been established through rigorous testing performed by a highly respected and reputable geotechnical engineering firm.”
In its Jan. 18 statement, Barletta says experts, including two environmental consultants the contractor retained, GZA and Gainsight, “agree that soil put to good use as landfill cover is not solid waste.”
However, a Jan. 12 police narrative attached to the indictments, notes that throughout the investigation, that the evidence establishes that more than 3 cubic yards of solid waste, as defined by Rhode Island law, “was imported from the Pawtucket site and the Jamaica Plain site” in July 2020 to the 6/10 site. Barletta then operated an unlicensed “solid waste management facility” as defined by Rhode Island law. It adds Ferreira and Barletta “orchestrated the mixing and/or distribution of the solid waste to multiple locations at the 6/10 site.”
In the state accusations, Neronha notes that Barletta was allegedly “required to analyze any fill brought to the 6/10 site for contaminants” and certify its suitability for site use. Arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were confirmed “soil contaminants” at the MBTA rail station in Jamaica Plain, which served as a rail yard for nearly 150 years, Neronha’s statement says. “Barletta stockpiled contaminated stone generated from railbed replacement work they conducted on the MBTA B and C Green lines” in summer 2020.
Fit to fight
Neronha also alleges state officials requested environmental certification in late July 2020 for the transported stone from Ferreira. His environmental testing report included “analysis from another site to hide the fact… the 6/10 site stone was contaminated,” he notes.
As for remediation, RIDEM noted in a Dec 6, 2018 remedial decision letter that it was preferable to “store and cap, ship, dispose and contain” contaminated soils” as part of the reconstruction.
Barletta counters that it seeks to “demonstrate that Ferreira acted independently without authorization…or consent of Barletta.”
The court on Feb. 1 granted Barletta’s request for an additional 90 days to file motions, says a Neronha spokesperson. A status conference for the state criminal case is scheduled for May 1. Barletta says it “intends to fight these charges vigorously and is confident that it will prevail.”