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Police refuse to staff 6-10 connector project over allegations of contaminated soil

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The two largest police unions in the state have asked to no longer work highway details on the 6-10 connector, citing allegations that the soil is contaminated.

State Trooper John Brown, president of the Rhode Island Troopers Association, said his union made the request after the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 57 alleged the soil used on the highway project contains hazardous material.

“I thought it was better to cancel the detail until we confirmed the area was safe to our members,” Brown told Target 12.

Michael Imondi, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 of the Providence Police Department, has likewise requested that all city police details end until the soil can be further tested.

“My priority is our members working that detail with the dirt blowing around cars,” Imondi said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we asked the colonel to stop the details until we can get testing done on a sample there.”

R.I. State Police Col. James Manni has agreed to end trooper details, while Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We’re temporarily suspending the detail until we get all the facts,” Manni said.

Local 57, a private union working on the highway project, has accused the development group headed by Barletta Construction of using thousands of tons of contaminated soil from stockpile sites in Boston and Pawtucket to help build the redeveloped highway.

Barletta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union hired a company to test soil samples from the worksite and the results showed elevated substances that cause cancer among other things, according to results reviewed by Target 12.

“One chemical was found to be more than double the acceptable limits,” Local 57 President James White wrote in an Aug. 31 letter to R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti. “Another chemical was found to be more than four times the acceptable limits.”

The union’s lab results contradict separate soil test results provided to the state by the development company, although White claims that’s only because the soil used in their tests came from an off-site stockpile that differed from the Boston and Pawtucket locations.

He’s called on Alviti and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to intervene.

“It is shocking to think that the State of Rhode Island would allow thousands of tons of hazardous waste to be trucked in from Massachusetts and dumped in the middle of Providence for use on a construction project,” White wrote in a separate letter sent to DEM Director Janet Coit on Aug. 31.

Questions about the contaminated soil were first reported by the website GoLocalProv.

DOT spokesperson Charles St. Martin said the state is looking into the allegations.

“We are collecting all the facts and will put out a statement soon,” he wrote in an email. “We are working jointly with the State Police and DEM on this matter.”

Manni confirmed he agreed to end the details and his agency is involved in a joint investigation with the DOT and DEM.

The concern among police to staff the 6-10 connector, which travels through six city neighborhoods, could complicate public safety oversight of the project.

But St. Martin said the state would nonetheless continue to follow all federal workplace safety requirements moving forward.

“RIDOT will follow all federal and state safety guidelines and procedures for safe work zones and for safety personnel at the work site as required by OSHA,” he said.

On Wednesday, City Council President Sabina Matos said she was “deeply concerned” to learn about the allegations, likewise calling on state officials to “remedy this public health hazard as quickly as possible.”

“This breech of public health and safety puts workers, public safety officials, and residents at risk,” Matos said in a statement. “The city of Providence will not accept anything less than the highest standard of professionalism and care from any party looking to perform, or performing work, in our neighborhoods.”

Editor’s Note: One of the authors of this report, Tim White, is a first cousin once-removed of the head of Local 57, James White.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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