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EPA and DOJ File Complaint Against New Bedford Boat Owner

Release Date: 03/28/2003
Contact Information: Charles Miller, DOJ Public Affairs (202-514-2007) Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

NEW BEDFORD –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a complaint against Carlos Rafael, owner of a fishing vessel sunk in New Bedford Harbor. The complaint alleges a violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act, seeks compensation under general maritime law and alleges a public nuisance and a trespass.

Last April EPA conducted a $1.2 million 6-week demolition of abandoned, partially sunken maritime vessels from the former Herman Melville Shipyard. The vessels, including ten wooden boats, one steel tug, and several barges, were removed to allow for sampling and dredging of PCB-contaminated harbor sediment. Mr. Rafael's fishing vessel "Just A Girl" was one of those boats and the government spent approximately $50,000 in removing it. EPA obtained information from the Massachusetts Environmental Police listing Mr. Rafael as the owner of the "Just A Girl" and that the vessel was docked in Fairhaven, MA, eighteen months prior to EPA's demolition work.

"EPA will take the necessary enforcement actions against those individuals who abandon vessels or dump debris in the harbor and thereby impede and increase the costs of the harbor cleanup," said Robert W. Varney, EPA regional administrator.

The New Bedford Harbor Superfund site includes all of New Bedford Harbor and parts of the Acushnet River and Buzzards Bay. The harbor was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the result of past waste disposal practices at two electrical component manufacturing plants, one on the Acushnet River, the second on the outer harbor. PCB wastes were discharged directly into the harbor, as well as indirectly through the city's sewer system. EPA added the harbor to its National Priorities List (commonly known as the Superfund) in 1983, making the site eligible for federal Superfund cleanup money.

EPA has already spent over $180 million in planning, engineering and construction costs for the harbor cleanup. Ten acres of the most highly contaminated areas of the harbor have been cleaned up and the remaining 200 acres of contaminated sediment, including surrounding wetlands and residential properties, will be processed at a new 4.5-acre shoreline and transfer facility. The sediment will be dewatered at this facility and then disposed at an offsite landfill or in one of three confined disposal facilities along the New Bedford shoreline. 200 acres of sediments is roughly equivalent to 75 football fields each filled three feet deep.

Fish, lobster and other seafood from New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River contain high levels of PCBs which can cause illness if eaten regularly. In 1979, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued restrictions on fishing and lobstering based on health risks from eating fish and lobster from the 18,000-acre New Bedford Harbor and Acushnet River estuary.