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Burnham fights sediment-dumping charges

Posted by Doris Wong  December 8, 2010 12:25 PM

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The company accused of illegally dumping sediment from a Hingham Harbor project said the buoy that is supposed to identify the dumping site was missing.

John Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for Salem-based Burnham Associates Inc., called the US Environmental Protection Agency's 28 allegations of illegal dumping “frustrating” and “misleading.” See earlier story.

He said his client did deposit sediment within the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site, an area that is two nautical miles in diameter, and is located10 nautical miles south-southeast of Eastern Point in Gloucester, 12 nautical miles southeast from Gales Point in Manchester, and 18 nautical miles from the entrance to Boston Harbor.

The problem, Fitzpatrick said, is that his client could not exactly locate the prescribed area within the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site, and subsequently deposited sediment a couple hundred feet away.

“In most of these instances, we’re talking about maybe a few hundred feet, which is absolutely baffling,'' Fitzpatrick said.

"We’re talking about a tug boat that is towing a line up to 1,000 feet long, and behind that is a dump barge, and on the high seas, there is supposed to be a buoy marking where the dumping was taking place, but the buoy was missing,” Fitzpatrick said. “The captain of the tug had to use his best judgment.....

“The bottom line is this is an operation that was conducted within the prescribed area where the government prescribed. And although it didn’t occur over the pinpoint spot, and I’m talking a pinpoint spot,....it was taking place within the Mass Bay Disposal Site,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said his client had been unusually targeted in this claim, and called the $70,000 fine for each of the 28 illegal disposals a "preposterous exercise in impractical and pointless perfection."

Despite the fact that the illegal dumping occurred within the Mass Bay Disposal Site, the EPA said that because of the dumping, the won't be able to limit the spread of future dredged material or determine migration and erosion rates.

In addition, the EPA said there are similar cases elsewhere of dredged material being dumped in improper locations within the dumping site.

“Have any other companies been penalized for something similar? If you are referring to "misdumping," i.e., dumping in a wrong location within the disposal site, [then] yes. EPA has taken penalty actions and collected penalties for such violations in other regions,” said Paula Ballentine, a public affairs specialist for the federal agency.

EPA officials could not be reached to find out what specific regions or companies had been charged elsewhere.

Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting Co., based in Quincy, faced similar fines with illegal dumping in Beverly Harbor, but that area was well outside the parameters of the Mass Bay Disposal Site.

Although Cashman faces a $50,000 fine for those actions, Fitzpatrick said that case is in no way similar to Burnham’s, which was depositing sediment within the prescribed area.

Fitzpatrick added that the party involved in the dumping is a subcontractor, but the EPA said Burnham remains responsible for any illegal dumping that occurred.

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