2007-03-15 / Front Page

No evidence of chemical dumping found at bridge

By Jeff McDonough

Workers from Lincoln Environmental and the state Department of Environmental Management dig Friday at the Newport Pell Bridge where paint solvents were allegedly dumped in the 1970s. Photo by Jeff McDonough Workers from Lincoln Environmental and the state Department of Environmental Management dig Friday at the Newport Pell Bridge where paint solvents were allegedly dumped in the 1970s. Photo by Jeff McDonough There has been no evidence found that paint solvents were dumped into trenches at the Newport Pell Bridge during the 1970s, a spokesman for the bridge said Tuesday.

David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, said investigators have dug test pits in four different areas and had not discovered any indication of trenches where paint solvents were allegedly dumped. He said field samples of the soil were taken, but it would be 10 days to two weeks before testing results were known.

Lincoln Environmental and the state Department of Environmental Management are leading the investigation, Darlington said.

RITBA began its investigation about two weeks ago after a former bridge employee said that solvents were disposed by pouring them into trenches when the bridge was painted in the 1970s. Nick Robertson, who is also a former threeterm member of the Town Council, was the maintenance foreman for the bridge at the time.

The site in question is under the bridge on Freebody Drive. The town of Jamestown owns the adjacent land and is considering building a new highway garage there. The allegations of dumping surfaced when a current council member questioned Robertson about his knowledge of the property.

Robertson has stated that he does not care where the town builds the highway garage, the location of which has been the subject of a long-standing island-wide debate.

Darlington said Tuesday that a neighbor of the bridge property, Joe Perry, confirmed Robertson's report of trenches. Perry's home is across the road from the bridge property on Freebody Drive.

RITBA officials have said they will clean up any contamination that may be found. "We've looked at specific locations and have come up with nothing," Darlington said. "We have found no specific evidence."

Darlington said RITBA is checking to see if 1970s aerial photographs of the area can help investigators in their search for the alleged trenches.

RITBA officials are also talking with environmental experts about how to assure the public that the bridge property does not have contamination problems if nothing can be located, Darlington said.

Darlington said RITBA recently had the area soils tested for lead contamination. He told the Press on Tuesday that RITBA was aware of some "minor elevations of lead."

"We'll know more when we get the full report," Darlington said, adding that RITBA would consult with the state DEM to determine what actions might be necessary.

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