Stuck in Port

I attended the hearing in Portsmouth this past Monday night to listen to  the views of  both proponents and detractors of the scrap metal operation at our State Port Facility. It is our Port,  it belongs to all of us, residents of  NH.So it is not simply a local issue but one that should concern everyone that cares about our  State economy and our stewardship of natural resources, specifically  Great Bay, and the Piscataqua River.

I am always struck when attending  meetings of such import  by the script employed,  cast of characters, and flavor. It is always  depressing to notice the lack of participation by  those with  more time left on their biological clocks. I suppose they are busy with  mealtime, helping the kids with their homework, relaxing , after a busy day.

I still think  one adult could be cut loose from those duties to attend a few meetings and report back.

The rooms are usually full of old guys,  and this meeting was no exception.

The Seacoast  paper reported 40 in attendance , I took my own count that was about half  that number and applying Charlie Tucker’s (our town moderator who always wants to know at Town Meeting how many in attendance are not department heads or  very interested parties)question to that would surmise there were 8 max that did  not have a horse in the race, or a row to hoe.

Present also was a Mr Robert Varney formerly the New England Administrator for the EPA. He is now employed by Normandeau Associates an environmental consulting firm and was I believe there on behalf of someone, still not sure who.

The cast of characters always includes the unassailable.

Tug boat Captains, Tall Ship organizers that realize monies for events with  Mr Grimmel’s assistance, maybe  even a few truck drivers that haul salt or scrap, fisherman in need of dock space. The Port is vital to those interests. Environmental concerns take a back seat to Commerce and Fundraising it would seem .

Pure citizens, just trying to understand what is going on with the Port of NH, 8  maybe.

The Issue:

The long suffering neighbors of the Port are upset  by the presence of the scrap metal piles and their dust and debris. This  concern has been longstanding and unfortunately since so much time has passed, with no resolution satisfactory to opponents , positions have hardened. Mr Thomas Carrol a passionate neighbor has now become nothing but an itch. It just happens to you should you find yourself in a protracted battle.

“Here he comes again” sigh.

Even folks that may harbor similar concerns will feel uncomfortable being associated with those passionate about an issue.That feeling springs  in my view from ones own inaction and lack of concern.  It’s guilt pure and simple, expressed as distaste, for the firebrand’s unrelenting and seemingly personal vendetta.

It can also lead to that person not being treated with respect, and lack of engagement with the citizen to the  issue at hand.

Often these folks simply run out of steam given the real personal toll crusades can exact on the crusader.

I have spoken to  many that have given up a pursuit for these very  reasons.

It wonderful to be outstanding in your field, it’s not so great to be out there standing all alone.

Been there.

Mr Carroll was ready for business Monday evening  with exhibits and handouts and passion in his comments to the  assembled.I found him to be very reasonable given his long campaign and would  like to help him in his seemingly Quixotic pursuit from which many would benefit .

Just an aside here. If you have a presentation to make could you please take a moment to familiarize yourself with your material and the technology that you will employ. There is  no excuse for  not knowing how to use a laptop projector or remote. It just takes so much away from the presentation especially if I  am to assume you do this regularly  in your profession.

I make that assumption if your business card has a VP, Dir, or Esq.

In NH we always begin with a history lesson and Monday  night was no exception. We spend so much time looking back , rather than forward. A  local buff was present to detail, (some details were missing) the history of the working port, all ports at one time were working ports.Trains and Trucks  put many  Port operations out of business ,both ocean operations and riverine . Portsmouth was a group of islands and the Port of NH is on the former Nobles Island. Historical views of the Port are  really hard to discern from  the present, apart from some missing  oil storage tanks.

Ok , got it, now on to the crux please. My head is swimming in history, what about right now, today, tomorrow.

The scrap metal is owned by a company named Grimmel and is trucked to the Port from Maine, already shredded to await a ship to haul it overseas. Then it comes back, I guess, in new products employing sheet steel.It is  tantamount to above ground mining and valuable to China and other countries that are resource poor or are manufacturing so much product no mine could ever keep up. Shipping costs are low too.

The scrap operation is 18% of  the Port’s  current  revenue stream and since the Port receives no monies from the State of NH or the PDA it’s vitally important, right now, to sustain the  operation. I had a long conversation with Gino Marconi the Port Director the following day to gain a greater understanding  of his problem .

The piles are  a problem in my view and he understands. He too would love to have clean cargo coming and going.

There are  many limitations in place that make those piles of toxic metal valuable, for now. His pier is not long enough to accommodate  larger ships and any ships entering Portsmouth must adhere to the tide schedule. This can be an issue for neighbors as that tide cycle waits for no man.

The radar screen image at the top of the post speaks to the most pressing issue. The pad on which the  scrap metal rests awaiting shipment overseas is leaking toxic  runoff into the River. This has been on an ongoing problem in addition to atmospheric pollution by blowing dust.

The Conservation Law Foundation brought this to the attention of the EPA, specifically the runoff through  8 outfall pipes. The EPA did  not have this site on their radar screen. The subsequent investigation resulted in fines and a promise by Grimmel and the Port to do a better job of housekeeping. I spoke with Tom Irwin of  CLF yesterday  regarding this matter and their web site details their success. The following quote from their  site is no different than the opinion expressed to me yesterday, on the  phone by Tom.

“CLF supports working water fronts and metals recycling,” Irwin further stated. “But it’s essential that activities taking place on our waterfronts must comply with the Clean Water Act to ensure that our waters – such as the Piscataqua River and Great Bay – are protected for current and future generations.”

The Port must comply with the Clean Water Act and any other applicable laws as long as this less than desirable operation is allowed to continue.

This Summer a fine was levied on Grimmel of 75,000.00(  two installments?) and they agreed to pay another  150,ooo.oo to help restore eel grass beds and oyster restoration in Great Bay , that’s a little under 2 acres I believe.

The Conservation Law Foundation in my opinion should  be heartily commended for the work they do , every day to protect our resources.

The problem at the Port has been caused by the runoff of water sprayed for dust mitigation on the toxic piles mixing with storm water runoff on the Port’s pad. A pad that was not level and is small to begin with, so that runoff was flowing unimpeded , for years,  into the Piscataqua River. Some metal also may have been falling into the River during loading operations. Gino Marconi the Port Director stated that there is some effort expended to  recover this solid material.

It’s not done that day, of course.

The Port is currently in the final stages  of installing a storm water/process water collection system. Instead of 8 outfall  pipes with no media or entrapment devices to hinder the flow of toxic runoff, there will be only 3. These will be coupled with cisterns that claim to be capable of capturing 80% of the particulate in the runoff. They appeared to me to be undersized for a protracted  rain event, but I am just a citizen. This would be considered primary treatment. If this does not have the mandated and desired effect then they will have to refit the system for secondary treatment. A number was bandied about  during the meeting of 700K for this drainage work. It was also stated by counsel that should this not work that  Mr Grimmel would agree to spending  more money.

I do not believe at this time that Mr Grimmel  has written any checks for the current work. I have inquired about this, but Grimmels level of participation has yet to be ironed out. When the project is completed perhaps there will be a sit down.

Mr Cheney of Sheehan, Bass and Phinney the counsel, also stated that Grimmel will be sweeping the pier more frequently to control dust, then added “at least once a month”

So, now the game is on  for sure. All parties have been  put on notice and they have to perform or more fines will be levied. The Port of NH can continue to seek that seemingly elusive clean cargo and we can all wait, at home,to see what happens next.

I thought I had a solution for the problem at the Port but alas, it turned out to be  a dead end, of sorts.

I spotted a piece of equipment on the web from a company called  Advanced Steel Recovery

I just spoke to the President, Nathan Frankel and he took me to school, on my idea. I had seen his machine on the web for loading shipping containers with recycled metal. It’s basically a ram and Nathan’s company’s web site has a video of it in action. I thought  containerizing the piles in Portsmouth would be a solution. That the Grimmel product could be delivered to the port, ready to  be loaded.

That is not Nathan’s business model, selling his FastTek loader to fellows like Grimmel, who Nathan allowed he had never heard of before my call.

Nathan would   buy Grimmels material load it  at Grimmels yard supplying  his own containers and loading technology and ship it to a waiting customer on a container ship. The USA, especially the West Coast, is awash in shipping containers as we import more than we ship.

My sense is that Grimmels operation is not as sophisticated on the sales end of the equation and as a result here we sit.

NH is sort of stuck , Gino Marconi is  stuck ,Tom Carroll  the neighbor, also  stuck with a dirty operation, in a very sensitive area that must be protected and now will be closely monitored. Lots of monies will be spent in fines probably moving forward, the EPA completed an inspection very recently and the problems at the Port persist. The reports to follow after the new catch basins are operational I hope will result in a better report card. If not, then more money will have to be spent and will be, as long as the scrap operation remains so vital to the Port’s bottom line. This drainage project had to be done, even absent the  dirty tenant and the EPA oversight. Mr Marconi made that quite clear to me in our phone conversation. It was part of an existing plan of port expansion. I am sure that is true, it’s just a real shame that for so many years there were eight pipes dumping right into the River and the issue is  only being addressed  now.


If you would like any more  information on this issue, you have the tools, right  at hand.

reader submission

Check out the pictures attached. We saw these deer swimming up the Lamprey yesterday morning at low tide. When their hooves touched bottom they made a dash for the cash up the river. When we went by they crossed the flats between the Squamscott and Lamprey and were bound for Shackford’s Point.

You are welcome to use the pictures in your Great Bay section of the Town Crier.