NORTH SMITHFIELD – Residents concerned about a proposal by a metals processor to build a 23,000-square-foot building on a property featuring acres of wetlands say they discovered more reasons to oppose the project this week, when the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management shared files documenting a history of environmental violations by the applicant.
Files provided by RIDEM following a public information request show that Material Samples Technology’s property at 800 Central St. has been subject to several violations, and in some cases fines for non-compliance.
A precious metal reclamation company doing business on the five-acre lot since 2011, MST has proposed building a second structure on an adjoining property, purchased by the business last year. That currently vacant 10-acre lot, zoned mixed use industrial, would feature a single-story structure, parking for the business, four loading docks and three new access driveways, including one designed to accommodate a 53-foot long trailer, according to plans.
But first, the Zoning Board must hear MST’s case for relief of setback requirements for the front, side and rear of the new building, as well as the loading dock.
And because wetlands cover around two-thirds of the lot, neighbors say the structure will be close to the roadway in the primarily residential neighborhood.
Christian and Natalia de Rezendes, the owners of two homes just across the road from the proposed expansion have opposed the project from the onset.
“There are so many things wrong with this picture that we oftentimes don’t even know where to start,” Christian noted in a social media post last month. “They are proposing to do several things that, according to the town’s zoning laws, are not allowed, such as anything visually offensive like fencing and harsh lighting, with noxious noises. This would increase traffic, be visually distracting, create more noise and industrialize our neighborhood.”
But de Rezendes noted that he’s far more concerned about the environmental aspects of the proposal.
“MST wants to build a huge warehouse surrounded on three sides by wetlands to store metals in a residential neighborhood with families with young children in houses that have wells,” he wrote. “A building like this is best suited for dry land.”
Natalia, Christian’s mother, has lived on the road since her parents purchased the land in the 1950s. In a letter mailed to neighbors she notes that it has always been a peaceful, quiet neighborhood and urges others to get involved.
When the Zoning Board was set to hear the proposal on Tuesday, Sept. 27, Christian notes that more than two dozen residents showed up to express opposition. An attorney on behalf of MST requested a continuance, and the project is now due back before the board on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
That was before the family saw MST’s records with RIDEM.
The files document various compliance issues going as far back as the company’s first year in North Smithfield.
“With this DEM info and their current proposal in hand, for this town to allow this warehouse to be built would, at the very least, be blatantly irresponsible,” Christian said in reaction this week.
According to the documents, in March of 2011, MST President John Silvestri received a permit to install and operate an incinerator on the property at 800 Central St. from RIDEM’s Office of Air Resources. Later that year, the company officially purchased the lot from GT Distribution Inc. for $1,170,000.
Communications with RIDEM note that the business accepts, “secondary precious metal bearing materials,” including electronics and jewelry, as well as from the automotive, aerospace and telecommunication industries, which they process and ship for further reclamation.
“The types of precious metals in these products include gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, copper, iridium, lead and ruthenium,” MST notes.
The 2011 permit to operate an incinerator on the property required that MST conduct testing to demonstrate compliance with emissions limits.
CK Environmental submitted results in October of that same year that exceeded the standard, according to RIDEM, an issue reportedly caused by incineration of circuit boards.
Further testing over the next year resulted in a legal dispute between the company and RIDEM after the state agency found that MST did not demonstrate that compliance issues had been resolved. In December of 2012, MST was issued notification of a violation of Rhode Island’s Clean Air Act and RIDEM’s Air Pollution Control Regulation, fined $2,500, and ordered to submit a written proposal describing all steps that would be taken to ensure compliance with emissions standards.
MST appealed the order, arguing that DEM should use the average from the test results – not just the one showing the excess emissions. Eventually, the business resolved the issue in a Consent Agreement with RIDEM in 2013 – by that time under the new name “LKQ Precious Metals.”
The agreement stipulated that the metal reclamation company would conduct testing on the incinerator within a year to demonstrate compliance during the processing of circuit board material – and immediately discontinue processing if the results failed. LKQ also paid a $2,000 penalty as part of the resolution.
Documents from RIDEM show that the company again failed to meet emissions limits during testing in 2014. The company again disputed the violation through attorneys, stating that the wrong equipment had been used during testing. And according to emails exchanges between lawyers for MST and RIDEM officials, they continued processing circuit boards.
A letter of non-compliance in 2015 cites four issues found during an inspection of the facility related to the management of hazardous waste and used soil. RIDEM effectively revoked the permit to process circuit boards that same year, prohibiting MST from incinerating the material.
But the state agency adopted new regulations in 2016 that rescinded the permit requirement, allowing MST to continue processing circuit boards.
In 2020, the company was back on RIDEM’s radar following tests that again exceeded emissions limits. MST – now operating under the name Q Tech LLC – this time paid a $1,000 penalty.
And in resolving the 2020 issues, RIDEM discovered that a building on the property encroached into a 100-foot riverbank wetland and that it had not been subject to the agency’s permitting process. According to MST, the structure was built by a prior owner.
Documents submitted to the town as part of the application process for the new building note that property contains a freshwater swamp, a stream, and a Special Aquatic Site, and is located within a non-community wellhead protection area.
Zoning Board member Gail Berlinghof has recused herself from the application due to her involvement with filmmaker Christian’s documentary series on the village of Slatersville.
“As co-producer, I didn’t want it to look like there would be any kind of favoritism,” Berlinghof said, noting she also requested an Ethics Committee opinion on her ability to speak on the matter, which was granted.
Berlinghof notes that in 2012, a refinery was added to MST operations.
“It should have gone through the Zoning Board for a special use permit and it never did,” she said.
Berlinghof also notes that MST’s new property is marked on top of an aquifer in a map from 2019, which would have made the lot subject to additional zoning regulations. But the Town Council passed changes to the map in 2020 excluding the property.
Christian said that prior to receiving the documents, he had no idea of the issues with RIDEM. When the Planning Board issued a positive recommendation on MST’s expansion proposal earlier this year, no mention was made of issues with the state agency.
A file on the lot at 800 Central St. at Town Hall also makes no mention of the company’s extensive files with RIDEM.
Following the publication of this article, MST General Manager Craig Haddad sent the following statement:
“Material Sampling Technologies is currently in compliance with its minor source air permit and it has no unresolved violations from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management or any other agency related to operations at its North Smithfield facility.”
The Zoning Board is expected to take up the application for the new building again at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25.
Publisher Sandy Seoane lives near the subject property at a home on Florence Street in North Smithfield.