PROVIDENCE — A Massachusetts company and a former top company official illegally dumped contaminated fill from other sites at a major highway project in Rhode Island, the state attorney general alleged in a criminal case unveiled Wednesday.
Barletta Heavy Division and former senior employee Dennis Ferreira were charged in Rhode Island state court 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. Attorney General Peter Neronha said Canton-based Barletta and Ferreira were involved in dumping thousands of tons of contaminated soil and stone at the 6/10 highway project site from the Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail station and from a site in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
“As alleged in the information, Mr. Ferreira and Barletta used the 6/10 site as an environmental dumping ground, and not only for Rhode Island waste — worse yet, they made Rhode Island a dumping ground for Massachusetts waste,” Neronha said at a news conference in Providence unveiling the charges.
In a lengthy statement Wednesday, Barletta said it “respectfully rejects the criminal charges.”
The criminal charges come weeks after Ferreira, 62, of Holliston, Mass., pleaded guilty in federal court to three counts of making a false statement in connection with a federally funded highway project. He is set to be sentenced in March. Barletta reached a non-prosecution agreement with federal authorities, under which it will pay a $500,000 criminal fine. The company also settled under the federal False Claims Act for $1 million.
The separate accusations unveiled Wednesday are state charges. An arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 1.
The charges can bring fines of $25,000 a day for every day waste was present on the site, Neronha said, although he underscored that both Barletta and Ferreira are presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.
Messages seeking comment Wednesday from Ferreira’s lawyers were not immediately returned.
According to Neronha, Ferreira was the superintendent of the work on the Route 6/10 interchange, with broad responsibility for the ongoing project. Barletta is the primary contractor. In 2020, Barletta and Ferreira authorized the disposal of more than 4,500 tons of stone and soil contaminated with hazardous materials at the 6/10 project, Neronha said.
Barletta had to analyze any fill brought to the 6/10 site for contaminants, Neronha’s office said. But Barletta and Ferreira sourced contaminated soil from the Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail station, which had been used as a rail yard for nearly 150 years and where the presence of contaminants, including arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, had been confirmed, according to Neronha’s office.
In Jamaica Plain, Barletta had stockpiled contaminated stone from railbed replacement work on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s B and C Green lines, Neronha’s office said.
All told, Barletta and Ferreira authorized the transport of about 1,114 tons of contaminated soil from the Pawtucket/Central Falls site and 3,460 tons of contaminated stone from the Jamaica Plain MBTA site to the 6/10 project, Neronha said. They did so, Neronha said, to save money.
When state officials at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Management asked Ferreira for an environmental certification for the transported stone, he provided an environmental testing report with an analysis from a different site, Neronha’s office alleged.
When test results did come back for the Jamaica Plain stone, they showed contaminants exceeded public health and environmental standards that Barletta had to comply with — and nobody at Barletta told the DOT about it, Neronha said. That notification came two months later, from counsel for Barletta, according to Neronha.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation confronted Ferreira about the contaminated soil being brought to the 6/10 site, and Neronha said he responded by saying: “I can do anything I want with the soil.”
In a statement running 863 words that extensively laid out the company’s defense, Barletta said it “respectfully rejects the criminal charges that the Rhode Island Attorney General has chosen to bring, which incorrectly contend that Barletta illegally disposed of solid waste at the Route 6-10 highway job in Providence, Rhode Island.”
The statement continued: “Barletta intends to fight these charges vigorously and is confident that it will prevail and restore its impeccable reputation once the facts are fully and accurately presented in court.”
According to Barletta, the soil and stone transported to the 6/10 job had the same makeup as the soil in and around 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.”
The company said that if any stone or soil was taken to the site from Massachusetts or the Pawtucket/Central Falls train station projects, and if false documents were submitted, that was done by the former employee, Ferreira, without Barletta knowing about it. On the question of submitting false documents, Barletta said once it learned what Ferreira allegedly did, he was fired.
Barletta also said, among other things, that the materials at issue were not “solid waste,” which would be necessary to bring a criminal charge for illegal disposal.
As for remediation, Neronha said environmental experts have determined that trying to dig up and remove the materials that were used throughout the site would pose more of a public health threat than leaving them there in what is effectively a capped state. There are concerns, though, about what could happen when work needs to be done on the site down the road, Neronha said.
“There’s certainly going to have to be steps in place to address the contamination,” he said.
Neronha told reporters Wednesday that it was his understanding that people who live near or drive by the site should not be concerned about exposure. According to reports at the time, the state in September ordered Barletta to remove soil from the project.
The massive 6/10 reconstruction project, at a total cost of $410 million, started in 2018 and is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. The interchange carries about 100,000 vehicles a day, according to the DOT.
The project includes building nine bridges, two of them new, including a flyover bridge from Route 10 north to Route 6 west.
The Pawtucket-Central Falls commuter rail station is set to open later this month. Construction on that project was led by Barletta.
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.