Sunday, September 13, 2020
Delays in interviewing the whistleblower, refusal to allow independent testing, and moving and mixing the alleged contaminated material are raising concerns about the investigation into the alleged illegal dumping of contaminated material into one Providence neighborhood — low income and predominately Latino.
According to a top union official who raised concerns about the contractor on the $410 million 6/10 construction project, Barletta Engineering/Heavy Division, the Massachusett-based company, allegedly trucked in material from projects in Massachusetts and Pawtucket that contained contaminants.
One of the men at the center of this growing controversy is the CEO of the contractor whose company is making tens of millions for work on one of Rhode Island’s biggest public works projects.
Barletta’s President and CEO Vincent Barletta signed an agreement in Massachusetts in 2016 with election officials which bars him from making political contributions in Massachusetts for five years. And while Barletta and his companies were being barred from making donations in the Commonwealth, by 2017 one top member of the company poured thousands into Rhode Island Democratic party accounts — just months before the 6/10 contract was awarded.
Testing Materials — The Wrong Materials
On Saturday morning, Rhode Island state officials gathered at the location of where alleged contaminated materials were trucked to Rhode Island and conducted tests on a pile of materials. The only problem was that the pile had been moved and mixed since the initial complaint was filed.
The location on Plainfield Street is adjacent to homes, Bukana’s Sports Bar, and across the street from El Chapin restaurant. It is just a few hundred yards from the Pocasset Manor — affordable housing for seniors and the disabled.
The officials tested the wrong material. GoLocal was onsite during the inspection and watched an unidentified Rhode Island Department of Transportation official point the environmental inspectors to the mixed pile created during the past week.
Drone photography by GoLocal shows that since the initial complaint was filed by whistleblower James White, who is President of Local 57 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the alleged contaminated material had been mixed and piles moved — an attempt to sanitize the area. GoLocal informed Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management officials that they were testing the wrong material and received an email response “The matter is under investigation by DEM.”
This was just the latest.
GoLocal has learned that five days after White came forth publicly with allegations that Barletta had moved contaminated material to the Olneyville construction site, Rhode Island State Police not been interviewed White.
On Friday, GoLocal asked the Rhode Island State Police why the whistleblower had not been interviewed. GoLocal learned that after it raised questions about the lack of interview of the complainant White, a State Police investigator reached out to him and scheduled an interview with White on Saturday morning.
Two State Police investors interviewed White on Saturday morning — nearly two months after White brought concerns to Barletta and six weeks after he called and wrote a series of letters to RIDOT Director Peter Alviti and RIDEM’s Director Janet Coit about the potentially contaminated material,
Contractor Donations — Illegal Donations in Massachusetts, Thousands in Donations in RI
In 2016, the Massachusetts campaign finance agency said that Vincent Barletta made or reimbursed improperly donations to 10 candidates including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, former Gov. Deval Patrick, former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and former Weymouth Mayor Sue Kay.
As part of the agreement between Barletta and state officials, he was forced to pay a “civil forfeiture” payment of $185,000. In the 16-page agreement signed by Barletta, “Respondents First Fidelity Corp., Puma Corp. and Vincent Barletta, jointly and severally, shall make payments totaling $185,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the nature of a civil forfeiture.”
And the agreement stipulated further, “The Respondents agree not to make any contributions to influence Massachusetts elections for a period of five ( 5) years from the date of this Agreement. The Respondents agree not to fund any independent expenditures or electioneering communications for a period of five ( 5) years from the date of this Agreement. Vincent Barletta agrees not to solicit contributions for any Massachusetts candidate or candidate committee from any employee of Barletta Engineering or its related corporate entities for a period of five (5) years from the date of this Agreement.”
GoLocal has repeatedly reached out to Barletta for comments, on multiple issues.
Tim Barletta, another member of the company, in 2017 donated $6,000 to Rhode Island Democrats — individually he donated $1,000 to the RI Democratic State Committee, another $4,000 for “party building” and another $1,000 to the RI Good Government PAC, a Democratic political action committee.
Previous to bidding on the 6/10 contract and since receiving the multi-million award Barletta has not donated in Rhode Island.
Contamination in Samples Tested By Union, Refusal for Independent Testing
White’s union had samples of the materials which were trucked in from another Barletta project.
“Steve Rogers, our business agent for the union, tracked the trucks which were dumping on the site 6/10 Connector and followed the trucks and found that they were not coming from the site that Barletta told us. The soil was coming from another Barletta project — MBTA railroad station in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts,” said White.
White provided to GoLocal video and photos of trucks tracked from the Jamaica Plain and Pawtucket sites showing the vehicles transporting and then dumping material on the Plainfield Avenue site.
Testing of samples collected by the union and analyzed by a top regional lab — RI Analytical found elevated levels as much as four times the standard.
In an email from Ruben Parrilla of RI Analytical to White, Parrilla wrote, “This soil does not meet the industrial/commerical standards for re-use or land application. Seeing that you are in Rhode Island the disposal option would be to send this to the Johnston landfill (see attached) as alternative cover material “urban fill/contaminated (impacted) soil.”
One of the materials found in the samples according to RI Analytical’s results was benzo(a)pyrene, “A chemical that comes from certain substances when they are not burned completely. It is found in car exhaust, smoke from wood fires, tobacco, oil and gas products, charred or grilled foods, and other sources. It may also be found in water and soil. Benzo(a)pyrene can cause a skin rash, a burning feeling, skin color changes, warts, and bronchitis. It may also cause cancer,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
Two of the samples provided by White to RI Analytical measured 3.4 and 3.5 part per million for benzo(a)pyrene and that is more than four-times the Rhode Island standard of .08 according to the testing firm.
On Wednesday, GoLocal took the courtesy of reach out to the RIDOT Director’s office to request access. In an email to RIDOT’s Charles St. Martin sent Wednesday, GoLocal CEO Jost Fenton wrote, “GoLocal is requesting access to the 6/10 site to inspect and to collect samples. We have engaged a third-party licensed testing firm to collect samples – we would like to meet on-site either this afternoon [Wednesday] or first thing [Thursday] morning. Please provide a contact for the site visit.”
RIDOT officials regularly hold press conferences on worksites and allow media access.
In response, RIDOT’s St. Martin wrote, “No, you do not have permission to access the site. We do not allow access to active construction sites. As we told you previously, we are having the soil independently tested and the results should be in shortly.”