EPA threatens to fine Promet Marine

JOEL AND DAVID COHEN, owners of Promet Marine in Providence, shown in their offices in 2007. The EPA may fine the company for alleged pollution violations.
Posted 5/24/10

(Updated, 4:55 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is threatening to fine a Providence shipyard, alleging the business violated clean air and clean water laws.

The EPA said Monday that Promet Marine Services Corp. along Allens Avenue failed to secure the necessary permits before expanding its business and sent untreated runoff from its power-washing operations into the Providence River. The shipyard repairs Coast Guard, military and other marine vessels.

“Clearly we will be sitting down and discussing this with them and hopefully resolve our concerns and their concerns,” Proment Vice President Joel H. Cohen told Providence Business News on Monday.

Cohen, who owns the company along with his brother David, referred additional questions to the company’s lawyer, who was not immediately available for comment.

The EPA said Promet failed to apply for an operating permit required under the Clean Air Act and violated federal notification and recordkeeping rules. The EPA said it first issued a notice for violating the rules to Promet in June 2008 and gave the shipyard 120 days to comply. Promet came into compliance in November 2009 but still lacks required permits from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the EPA said.

Separately, the EPA said that prior to July 2008 the company discharged into the Providence River water runoff laden with copper, lead and zinc from hull washing and did so without a permit. The company has since installed a wastewater recycling system.

On Monday afternoon, Hugh Martinez, a senior enforcement counsel at the EPA’s Boston office, said the potential fine could stretch into the millions of dollars. While the EPA has not calculated a specific fine, Martinez said the maximum penalty for violations under the Clean Water Act is $11,000 every day the violation occurs. The Clean Air Act brings maximum daily penalties up to $37,500.

“Some of these violations persisted for quite some time so you certainly can, by doing the math, multiply it out by very large numbers,” Martinez said.

Martinez said Promet has 30 days to respond from when the EPA officially filed the complaint May 17. From there, the case will travel to EPA headquarters, which typically offers to work out a settlement with those facing violations, Martinez said. Alleged violators who fail to reach an agreement head to a formal hearing process.

In Providence, the Cohen brothers have been high-profile opponents of a city plan to rezone parts of the area to encourage a new mix of tourist-related uses. The brothers helped establish the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, which has argued that the existing industry along the road provides good jobs and taxes for the city and the state.

The company also prevailed in a lengthy legal battle with the city in 2008 over its right to buy a waterfront parcel of land.

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