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State, feds now investigating contaminated soil at 6-10 connector

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State and federal investigators are looking into how hazardous materials ended up at the 6-10 connector highway redevelopment project and whether any laws and contracts were broken in the process, Target 12 has learned.    

The R.I. State Police, R.I. Attorney General and R.I. Department of Environmental Management, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, are investigating the project after the state on Wednesday ordered the developer, Barletta Construction, to remove 1,600 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the project.

Barletta has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

“There is an ongoing investigation as to whether or not any activity that took place – or the placement of that fill – whether the origins and/or the transport of it was conducted properly, and I’ll let those investigations take place,” R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti confirmed Wednesday during an interview with Target 12.

Attorney General Peter Neronha spokesperson Kristy dosReis confirmed his office is working with State Police and DEM on the investigation but declined to provide specifics. State Police Col. James Manni likewise confirmed the state’s investigation.

“The Department of Environmental Management is the lead agency in the in the investigation to include charging, if it is warranted,” Manni told Target 12. “But we haven’t gotten to that point. We are there to assist in the event it turns into a criminal matter.”

DEM did not immediately respond to multiple questions related to the soil, but released a statement earlier saying its investigation continues — even though the hazardous material is being removed.

“DEM is continuing our investigation into the handling of soils for this project and cannot comment further on that aspect of the case,” DEM Director Janet Coit said in a statement.

Investigators in part are looking at whether the developer followed the project’s so-called “soil management plan,” which is part of its $410 million contract with the state that’s been reviewed and approved by environmental regulators, according to Alviti.

The plan lays out how the developer should handle any hazardous materials that are either found on-site or used in the development, raising questions about why DEM found evidence of hazardous material — even though Barletta had provided its own test results showing no signs of contamination.  

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 57, which is working on the project, first raised the issue publicly, but has declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation. The union has accused Barletta of trucking in hazardous material from a stockpile in Boston, which could make it an interstate issue.

A federal Office of Inspector General spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny any involvement in the investigation, but said the office has the authority to investigate any individual, company or public agency that receives federal transportation funds or is regulated by the federal transportation department.

Alviti said the state’s Federal Highway Administration administrator notified him that “there is some interest there,” and he was supportive of the attention from the federal regulators.

“We actually support and would like to have this issue fully vetted,” Alviti said.

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

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

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

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