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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

COPAR tries to defend the indefensible

“Who ya gonna believe? Me? Or your own lying eyes….and all those local, state and federal regulators”
By Will Collette

Sam Cocopard, CEO of the notorious COPAR quarry on the Westerly-Charlestown town line, met with local reporters at his on-site trailer at the strip mine. Cocopard unloaded on critics of his company and regulators who have issued dozens of citations and notices of violation including orders to shut down.

These include the federal EPA which recently cited COPAR for violating the Clean Air Act, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration which has fined COPAR for 54 violations for unsafe working conditions, the RI DEM which issued a cease-and-desist order for Clean Water violations and just recently found more problems during an inspection. 

But to Sam Cocopard, it's all just so unfair.

Click here to read DEM’s citations against COPAR. Westerly’s building official also issued a cease and desist order upon finding that COPAR was mining outside its permitted boundaries.

Judge Brian Stern also reprimanded COPAR during court proceedings for misrepresenting its activities. COPAR was caught misrepresenting its regulatory rap sheet in front of the Charlestown Town Council when its Connecticut lawyer David Gussak said the company had not committed any violations despite their incredibly long rap sheet.

But that’s COPAR’s story, and they’re sticking to it, as Sam Cocopard told the Westerly Sun: “Copar is doing what it is supposed to do. There are no complaints, and no violations for the four and a half months we’ve been under the eye of a court-appointed master and a monitor who have no skin in the game. They all say we’re good guys, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,”

Loaded COPAR truck with no cover. Note Connecticut license plate
While Sam Cocopard was telling his story to the local media, I was outside the quarry at a demonstration across from the quarry gate at the home of one of the members of Concerned Citizens of Bradford-Charlestown (CCBC). 

The frontage of the property was decorated with signs scorning COPAR for ruining the neighborhood and the environment due to its dust, noise, damaging blasting vibrations, water pollution and truck traffic.

While I was there, I saw a succession of large trucks – all with Connecticut plates – entering and existing the site, include the one pictured with an uncovered full load of crushed rock. See photo.

Tissue sample from a lung with silicosis
EPA’s recent citation against COPAR supports neighbors’ complaints about COPAR’s release of fine clouds of silica dust. CCBC says this dust drifts well off the mine site and causes breathing difficulties for people with asthma and COPD. Prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis, a chronic and life-threatening illness. Click here to read the latest EPA action against COPAR.

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) which monitors threats to the health and safety of COPAR’s workers, the company committed 54 violations in 2011 and 2012. MSHA has fined COPAR $17,308. So far, COPAR has paid $7565 of those fines.

COPAR principal Philip Armetta is one of Connecticut's biggest garbage and waste haulers. One of his major plans was to build “recycling” plant in an abandoned mine site near Middletown, CT called “Kleen Energy Systems.” In February 2010, the plant blew up, killing six workers. OSHA issued 371 citations for violations and $16.6 million in fines.

Kleen Energy blast site where seven workers died
Armetta has operated waste sites all over Connecticut and has continued to search for more locations. 

However, COPAR’s lawyer Gussak says there’s no truth to the rumor that the COPAR quarry might be converted into a waste disposal site. And Gussak is, after all, a lawyer and is licensed to practice in Connecticut and everything. So I guess that's that.

There’s a whole lot more to COPAR’s record than this, believe it or not. The folks at CCBC have done an incredible job of documenting COPAR’s actions and researching their backgrounds.

They’ve done such a good job that they’ve even made true believers out of Charlestown’s Town Council who have lent their support to CCBC’s efforts – although I haven’t seen any evidence that the Council has directed Charlestown departments to take enforcement action when COPAR’s pollution and nuisance conduct crosses the town line into Charlestown.

For example, the Charlestown Police have only logged in complaints about excess noise, but have not taken any further action.

But despite that, Charlestown has been CCBC’s biggest supporter to date. Charlestown Democrats declared their support last October, and the Town Council followed suit in January.

But the town of Westerly...not so much. Click here for the most recent, disgraceful example. I’ll address that truly shameful problem in the next installment.