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Environmental Enforcement: Burnham Settles EPA Ocean Dumping Allegations for $105k

Burnham Associates, a Salem, Mass., dredging company, has agreed to pay a penalty of $105,000 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it improperly disposed of dredged sediments.

The EPA has asserted that the dredger violated the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, commonly known as the Ocean Dumping Act, as part of a dredging project in Hingham Harbor in Hingham, Mass.

On at least 50 occasions a subcontracted towing company employed by Burnham dumped dredged sediments in locations that were in some cases up to one nautical mile from designated coordinates within the prescribed ocean dumping zone, the EPA alleges.

Such “misdumps” deprive regulators of the ability to monitor the sediments once they have been disposed of, determine migration and erosion rates, and monitor impacts on the marine environment, the EPA says. Particularly in this case, the agency said, misdumps prevented regulators from constructing a “containment cell” that could have limited the spread of future material disposed of at the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site.

The Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site is a circular area two nautical miles in diameter, about 18 nautical miles from the entrance to Boston Harbor.

John Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for Burnham, told The Boston Globe, “It was not Burnham, it was actually a separate company. Burnham’s position continues to be that we do not admit to any liability.

“We’re very disappointed with the performance of this company” in this instance, Fitzpatrick told the newspaper, noting that the fine “is significant for a small company to have to pay.”

The Ocean Dumping Act regulates the dumping of all types of materials into ocean waters.  In acting on this enforcement case, the EPA coordinated closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the permitting authority for ocean dumping projects involving dredged materials.

Late last year another dredging company, Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting, of Quincy, Mass., agreed to pay $50,000 for alleged ocean dumping violations while dredging the Porter and Crane rivers in Danvers, Mass.

This payment included a $12,500 cash penalty and $37,500 paid for installing in Beverly Harbor “low impact” moorings to prevent turbidity and allow eelgrass habitat to recover. According to regulators, Cashman performed a “short dump” of sediment in Beverly Harbor, well outside of the prescribed ocean dumping zone.  The EPA also alleged that Cashman overdredged in some areas and took unauthorized sediments for disposal in the Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site.

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