Providence — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has issued a notice of violation against a local yacht club for major water pollution violations, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The fine levels against the yacht club and its construction contractor reflect offenses “directly relating to protecting health, safety, welfare or environment,” in the language of the DEM charge sheets.
The submerged outfall for a brackish well water desalination plant servicing the Sakonnet Point Club and its marina in Little Compton was installed in water much too shallow to prevent toxic buildups of brine. This outfall threatens an adjacent lobster nursery in direct violation of its state permit requirements.
The charges were prompted by a PEER investigation which found the desalination outflow (called a diffuser) submerged in less than eight feet of seawater at near high tide despite certification by the yacht club that it was in fact placed in 23 feet of water. This depth requirement is aimed at preventing an over-concentration of the toxic brine which contains high levels of arsenic, copper, and nickel from the rock strata of the wells in addition to concentrated sea salts.
Sakonnet Point Club and its contractor have 20 days from the notice of violation issuance date of March 20th to contest the charges which include –
- Illegal pollution discharges into waters “designated for shellfish harvesting for direct human consumption, primary and secondary contact recreational activities and fish and wildlife habitat”;
- Failure to monitor wastewater discharges; and
- Providing false certifications to DEM that the outfall complied with depth requirements.
“While we are pleased that DEM has finally taken action, even a $40,000 fine is a slap on the wrist for a yacht club,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and lawyer formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting that she filed the complaint with DEM back in October 2007. “These were deliberate, knowing pollution violations meriting criminal prosecution.”
The coastal shallows of Narragansett Bay are particularly sensitive waters. Sakonnet Point also serves as a key lobster nursery and grow-out habitat. The lobster industry is already staggering under a population crash and the resultant severe harvest restrictions.
“The Club should also have its permit revoked,” Bennett added. “Given the history of false statements, DEM should not re-issue any permit until there is independent validation – at the applicant’s expense – that the outfall is re-installed properly.”