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Monday, May 20, 2013

Copar Quarry invades Charlestown

Notorious Connecticut company acquires at least one, perhaps two, new sites WITHIN Charlestown
"They're HEREEEEEE!"

By Will Collette

The notorious Connecticut-based Copar Quarry that has plagued its neighbors in Bradford and Charlestown has acquired at least one new quarry site within Charlestown’s town limits. That site is the 47 acre former Morrone Quarry off Route 91 (Alton-Carolina Road) near the Richmond town line.

An official transfer of ownership has not yet been filed with the town, but the employees at the Morrone quarry are now Copar employees and Copar’s fleet of Connecticut-tagged purple trucks is now moving material off that site.

I have also requested a copy of Copar’s business registration and license to operate in Charlestown, but apparently Copar has not filed with the town as required under Charlestown’s Code of Ordinances §147-2 and §147-7.

I did find a record of the transfer of ownership registered with the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. It shows the transfer from Morrone to Copar taking place on March 5.

Under Charlestown’s Code of Ordinances, §147-6 E, Copar is subject to fines of $25 a day for every day they operated without a license. By my calculations, they owe Charlestown over $1,800. That’s a very nice way for Copar to start out as a new Charlestown business. If they react the way they did in Westerly, they’ll refuse to pay and appeal the fines all the way.
Notice that sub-section B gives the Charlestown Police and Town Council the right to inspect any time they want to during operating hours.

Charlestown has had a pretty consistent record of driving away businesses even when they are good for the town (e.g. the retailers on Crossland Road who have been driven out by strict enforcement of Charlestown's signage ordinance). We drove out the Reggae Festival and almost drove out Rhythm and Roots. I'd like to see the same aggressive actions taken on Copar.

I have not been able to confirm reports that Copar is acquiring the inactive 24 acre site on Klondike Road owned by South County Sand and Gravel. That site is currently zoned R-40 and is classified as “pot[entail] dev[elvopment]”.

Copar truck (CT tags) leaving their Bradford site with a load of
crushed granite. Notice that the load is uncovered.
Apparently, the Charlestown Town Council’s resolution, highly touted by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, criticizing Copar’s Westerly operation did not deter Copar from crossing the town line to invade Charlestown. Or maybe they decided to visit in spite of the resolution. It will probably take more than a Council resolution to deal with this company.

Copar has been in a constant battle with its neighbors and with the towns of Westerly and Charlestown over its operations of the granite quarry it has leased from Westerly Granite on Route 216 near Buckeye Brook Road. That site has been cited by the US EPA, RI DEM, US Mine Safety and Health Administration and has been issued with two cease-and-desist orders by the Town of Westerly.

Silica dust piles (photo from CCBC website). When the wind blows,
people in the neighborhood breath the dust
These numerous violations cover the gamut from serious worker safety hazards to air and water pollution, illegal waste disposal and, just recently, a RI Superior Court judge ruled that Copar was causing a public nuisance to its neighbors.

As a general rule, Copar appeals all violations and ignores them until it is compelled to do otherwise. Copar’s attorney actually told the Charlestown Town Council that it had committed no environmental violations. When incredulous audience members started listing Copar’s long rap sheet, the Copar lawyer said that, well, gee, all of those are under appeal.

Neighbors are angry about huge blasts that scare the crap out of family members and pets as well as cause structural damage to foundations, chimneys and well casings. They have filmed clouds of silica dust blowing off the site and mine run-off running into wetlands. There’s a constant racket from Copar’s rock crusher.

Mine run-off from Copar's Bradford mine into Charlestown wetlands
The quarry site is essentially operated as a strip mine where Copar uses huge blasts to loosen up rock so they can break it down in their rock crusher and then haul it off to customers all over New England and New York. They’ve also been caught hauling trash in, such as a load of old refrigerators that led to one of DEM’s several notices of violation. That wasn’t surprising given that one of Copar’s owners, Phil Armetta, has been one of Connecticut’s major trash haulers.

Copar has also caused a major political scandal in Westerly after investigative reports by the Westerly Sun’s Dale Faulkner revealed that Copar had offered a job to the Westerly Zoning official who issued the first cease-and-desist order to Copar. She is now working for one of Copar’s waste disposal operations in Connecticut.

Faulkner also revealed that one of Westerly Granite’s owners had offered the job of director of the Westerly Housing Authority to Bob Ritacco, chair of the Westerly Zoning Board, while the Zoning Board was deliberating on Copar’s (and Westerly Granite’s) appeal of Westerly's first cease-and-desist order.

Gotta love good government, Westerly style!

And now we have the pleasure of hosting Copar as a new, unlicensed business in town.

Click here to go to the brand new website of the local residents’ group, Concerned Citizens of Bradford-Charlestown (CCBC) who have been leading the resistance. CCBC will be holding a general meeting, open to the public, on June 6. More details soon.

Click here for my earlier coverage of Copar.