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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

COPAR Quarry ordered closed – AGAIN. Copar appeals – AGAIN

Noose tightens on notorious local strip mine
(left) The Copar quarry off Route 216 [screen shot from Google Earth]
By Will Collette

The Town of Westerly once again issued a “cease and desist” order telling Westerly Granite and its lessee, Connecticut-based Copar Quarries, to shut down operations at their controversial granite quarry on the border of Westerly and Charlestown in Bradford.

The order was issued on February 12 by Bob Craven, serving as Special Zoning Officer for Westerly. Bob is also one of Charlestown’s solicitors and is the newly elected State Representative for House District 32 in North Kingstown where he lives.

Local Westerly and Charlestown residents organized Concerned Citizens of Bradford-Charlestown (CCBC) to fight Copar’s numerous violations of the law, especially the clouds of silica dust that pollute the air, the incessant noise, vibrations from blasting that damage homes and wells, water pollution and truck traffic.

Residents have argued that Copar is operating illegally because it obtained a zoning change to “light industrial” by misrepresenting the facts and by mining outside the permitted area.

Bob Craven issues second stop work
order against Copar
Craven’s “Notice of Violation/Cease and Desist” order upholds all of the residents’ charges, citing the misrepresentation of the facts that led to the quarry re-starting many years after the mining had stopped and the land had been re-zoned residential. Craven cited the mining outside of the permitted area and he singled out the environmental and nuisance issues raised by the residents as the basis for ordering Copar to shut down its operation.

Read Craven’s “Cease-and-Desist” Order to Copar by clicking here.

As it has done in the past, Copar immediately filed an appeal to continue operating.

That appeal goes to the Westerly Zoning Board which has still failed to act on Copar’s appeal of Westerly’s last cease-and-desist order, much to the dismay of CCBC and harsh criticism from many Westerly (and Charlestown) residents.

Westerly Zoning Board Chair Bob Ritacco has a
conflict of interest but doesn't say what it is
For months, Westerly Zoning Board chair Bob Ritacco has postponed action on the first cease-and-desist order, which was not even as far-reaching in scope as this new order by Craven who took over the Copar case from the town’s regular Zoning official Elizabeth Burdick who issued the first order last August.

Adding to the mystery is Ritacco’s most recent action where, once again, he prevented the Zoning Board from hearing Copar’s appeal by declaring that he “might” have a conflict of interest. He recused himself, thus denying the Zoning Board of a quorum able to act.

Ritacco belatedly filed the legally required recusal form which is normally used by public officials to provide a more detailed explanation for why they recused themselves. But in Ritacco’s case, his recusal form is devoid of details, leading to more public criticism and a potential complaint against him with the RI Ethics Commission.

Ritacco’s recusal does appear to be connected to the Comolli family because Ritacco also recused himself from another matter at the same meeting where he recused himself on Copar. The common denominator in both matters is attorney George Comolli, who is the lawyer for the Comolli family business, Westerly Granite, the owner of the land that Copar is leasing for its quarrying operation and also for the property owners in the other case.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading Ritacco’s sworn statement which you can read for yourself by clicking here.

Run-off from Copar flowing into Charlestown last December
There has been no explanation from Ritacco whether his recently declared potential conflict of interest is some new development, or whether it existed – but was undisclosed – when the Zoning Official issued the first cease-and-desist order last August.

As Copar neighbors loudly pointed out, Ritacco’s refusal to allow Copar's appeal of the first cease-and-desist order to be heard before the Zoning Board has allowed Copar to continue operating for the past six months.

In effect, Ritacco has allowed the quarry to ignore the town's order to stop operations by pushing the appeal back month after month.

To date, the Copar quarry operations have racked up dozens of violations – more than 50 safety violations and fines from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, Clean Air Act violations from the federal EPA, Clean Water violations from the RI Department of Environmental Management and from the town of Westerly.

Copar’s operations would be closed except for its aggressive use of its legal rights of appeal, although they have paid almost half of the fines levied against it by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. 

The company also claims that it has operated within the law – all evidence to the contrary – since RI Judge Brian Stern appointed a special master to oversee the mine after catching Copar making misstatements before the court.