A Salem dredging contractor agreed to pay a $105,000 fine to the Environmental Protection Agency after a subcontractor improperly dumped sediments in the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site.
The EPA announced its action against Burnham Associates, Inc. last December when the agency said the company was responsible for violating the Ocean Dumping Act.
Violations occurred when a subcontractor for the company dumped material from a dredging project in Hingham Harbor outside the approved dumping area within the disposal site, a circular area that sits about 18 nautical miles from the entrance of Boston Harbor, an EPA statement said.
John Fitzpatrick, an attorney representing Burnham Associates, said the EPA fine was reasonable compared to the approximate $3.5 million maximum they could have sought. Despite agreeing to pay, the company does not acknowledge responsibility for the violation, he said.
"It was not Burnham, it was actually a separate company," Fitzpatrick said in a telephone interview. "Burnham's position continues to be that we do not admit to any liability."
From November of 2009 until February of 2010, the towing company Burnham hired to dispose of sediments from the project dumped within the confines of the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site, said Toni Bandrowicz, an EPA attorney. However, the subcontractor dumped the sediments outside an area within it that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers - who grants dumping permits - previously established, Bandrowicz said.
"There are specific coordinates within the dump site where the material has to go," Bandrowicz said. "They had, on numerous trips, dumped outside the coordinates," she said.
Distinct coordinates were set so that dredged sediments would fall within a containment cell the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have in the works, Bandrowicz pointed out. Matter dumped in the wrong space could fall on top of barrels containing hazardous material, and possibly open them, she added.
The unlawful dumps added up to more than 50 incidents, an EPA statement said.
"These disposals were all within the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site," Fitzpatrick said. "It's not like the subcontractor was acting as a totally out of control, rogue operator."
Burnham Associates hired the towing company in the past, but never ran into similar issues with them, Fitzpatrick said.
"We're very disappointed with the performance of this company" in this instance, Fitzpatrick said, noting the fine imposed on Burnham Associates "is significant for a small company to have to pay."
Burnham's fine comes about five months after Cashman Dredging and Marine Contracting Co., LLC came under EPA fire in connection with a North Shore dredging project.
Last December, the Quincy company that allegedly dumped sediment into Beverly Harbor during a 2007-2008 dredging project in Danvers agreed to a $50,000 settlement with federal and state agencies.
In that case, a dive investigation conducted by the EPA found the company dumped about 2,000 cubic yards of dredged sediment within Beverly Harbor. The area was outside the project's designated dumping area and harmed the aquatic environment, an EPA statement released at the time said.
Fines come as the EPA increases its vigilance of ocean dumping, Bandrowicz said.
"We are trying to get the regulated [dumping] community in compliance."