PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 26: The Stubborn Crane

February 24, 20220

Little different kind of show in this episode. We got an interesting article from a listener and we put Marisa on the spot.

There is a crane-topped vessel that sunk in the Providence River and has been there about four years. So, some questions arise from this, who’s crane is it? Can it be removed? Who is now responsible for it and will it hurt the surrounding environment? State environmental officials have been trying for years to come up with a proper way to remove this barge without causing more pollution and doing as little additional damage to the environment as possible. Take a listen as we answer these questions and discuss in more detail about parties involved and actions that can be taken.

Transcript: The Stubborn Crane

CLARICE: All right. Hello, everybody. Thank you for tuning in to Environmentally Speaking.MARISA: Hi, everybody. I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney with a few decades of experience.

CLARICE: And I’m Clarice coming in with questions, comments, interesting stories. Today we decided to do something a little different. I received from a listener an interesting article and I kind of wanted to talk about it, shed some light. So for today, Marisa, I’m going to basically be reading you parts of this article and I’d love for you to just throw in your two cents, any gut reactions and random thoughts that come up. I’m putting her on the spot, folks.

MARISA: And that’s perfect for me mentally speaking because I just finished up with a hearing at the Public Utilities Commission, so my mind is still actively participating in that venue even though the hearing is over.

CLARICE: All righty. So we’re taking a mental break, a breather. It’s the Thursday before a long weekend for us which is basically our version of Friday.

MARISA: It is?

CLARICE: Yeah. This is a long weekend. It’s President’s Day, I think.

MARISA: I had no idea.

CLARICE: Either way I took Friday off.

MARISA: I think I’m working. Anyway.

CLARICE: I’m not. I made it a four-day weekend.

MARISA: Good for you.

CLARICE: Going back to this interesting read. This is coming from Channel 12 WPRI news in case anybody wants to check my sources. There is a crane-topped vessel partly sank into the Providence River and it’s been sunk for more than four years ago.

MARISA: A what now?

CLARICE: A crane-topped vessel.

MARISA: What is that?

CLARICE: It’s a boat with a crane on top.

MARISA: Oh, so it’s not a boat with the bird crane on top just chilling. It’s an infrastructure crane.

CLARICE: The crane could sit on the crane.

MARISA: Hey, could we get crane on crane action.

CLARICE: Yeah. This could be craneception. We don’t know. This is already off to a good start. So for anybody in the Providence area who’s driving down 95 not far from the Rhode Island most beloved Big Blue Bug, you will see the crane portion of the boat still sticking out of the water. So out of the Providence River is this giant crane machine structure and the boat portion of it has been sunk into the river for over four years.


[0:02:57] CLARICE: Well, I’m assuming there was a hole because I believe that’s how boats sank. I have not asked anybody.

MARISA: Oh, yes. I thought you meant it was sunk purposefully.


MARISA: You mean it’s just tragically by accident.

CLARICE: It sunk, yes. Yeah.


CLARICE: This was not intended. The boat was not meant to go under water. The boat is meant to do the exact opposite.

MARISA: This is true and I am not a boating person, but I at least know that.

CLARICE: So this boat is just living now in the river. It’s been there for more than four years. The crane is sticking up. You can see it from the highway, which just on a very basic level is an eyesore. But state environmental officials have been trying for years to come up with a proper way to remove this barge without causing more pollution and doing as little additional damage to the environment as possible.

MARISA: It’s already causing pollution?

CLARICE: I’d imagine the rust and I’m not sure what was on the boat. This article doesn’t say what was –

MARISA: Or in the boat, you know.

CLARICE: Exactly. I don’t know what the fuel tanks on the boat look like or things of that nature. The article didn’t go into saying too much, but apparently it’s taken about four years for them to come up with a way to raise this boat and they’ve still not come up with anything.

MARISA: This doesn’t seem right, does it?

CLARICE: I feel like this article is not telling us everything which is leaving me with more questions than answers.

MARISA: Yeah. And I have a question for you maritime law practitioners. I think a few of you I know that listen. I would be really interested to learn more about how the salvage insurance process works in this case because there has to be coverage for this type of loss to your vessel, commercial or otherwise. And why isn’t the insurance company figuring out how to remove the vessel. So if anyone’s got an answer to that, let me know.

CLARICE: Oh, write in. Let us know. I think another thing that’s interesting is the site that the boat sank is near federally protected osprey.


CLARICE: Yeah. I know. I know. I saved the bummer for the middle.

MARISA: What’s happening?

CLARICE: You got to build them up to lead you down. As far as this article has said, DEM and CRMC have been working together to try to find a solution to raise this boat with as little additional environmental damage as possible. There’s concern that in raising this boat it will disrupt the sediment and they’re worried about not only harming what could be held in the boat as well as what the boat is made of, but there’s also concern about, you know, disrupting the environments that in four years could be living in and around and sort of disrupting that sort of micro-ecosystem that’s now either relying on the boat or attached to it. The last method of raising the boat that was suggested was called the guillotine method. Let’s be honest, folks. I really wanted to read this article just so I could say that.

[0:06:32] MARISA: Please, tell us what this means.

CLARICE: Chopping the boat up into little bitty pieces and pulling it out part by part.


CLARICE: This is going to work. They said they’re going to use a large steel beam to chop the barge into smaller pieces, but there’s concern that this is going to be too disruptive for the riverbed. So CRMC has, according to my reading, has been very vocal about how this is problematic. And it seems that DEM and CRMC are kind of trying to figure out a way to pull this boat up and, frankly, I just think this is going to be our local mystery. How did the boat get there. How are they going to get it out. And I thought it was super interesting to note that CRMC and DEM are working together to try to solve this.

MARISA: Now, why? Why do you say that? Why is it so remarkable that DEM and CRMC are working together?

CLARICE: Because I don’t see that happening very often, not that they’re adversarial.


CLARICE: I think it’s interesting that we associate – or at least I do. I associate DEM with land use and wetlands and CRMC with waterways and bays and oceans. So in our practice I don’t often see a situation where both agencies have control or something and have to work between themselves and within their own – you know, sort of respecting their own regulations and now that extends to the partner that they have.

MARISA: Right.

CLARICE: So this is kind of the land and sea meeting and it’s all meeting over this half-sunken boat.

MARISA: Well, keep in mind that DEM has jurisdiction under the Federal Clean Water Act, so any discharge of a pollutant to a water of the state is something that DEM will receive, so that’s how they’re getting brought in. But you’re right. Rivers, lakes, coastal zone stuff is CRMC. I mean, it makes sense that they’re working together kind of and I wonder why the article was put in the paper recently if this vessel has been in this location for four years.

CLARICE: So from my understanding I believe it’s recently resurfaced as this guillotine method of raising the boat was recently proposed and come under scrutiny. So this has been the latest possible option and it’s kind of coming back into the news.

MARISA: Do you think it’s because they’re calling it the guillotine method? If they had called it the butterknife method it would be less sexy?

[0:09:20] CLARICE: Oh, if they call it the butterknife method I can guarantee you I would not be reading this on today’s cast. I would want nothing to do with it. I would want nothing to do with it. But the fact that I get to say that, first off, there’s a half-sunken boat in the Providence River that sticks – like literally it’s just a crane in the middle of the river. That’s fun to talk about.


CLARICE: And then to top it off they’re talking about chopping it into bitty pieces and calling it the guillotine. I’m about it.

MARISA: It gets the people going.

CLARICE: Apparently one of the big objections is it is possible that the sediment around the boat is too soft and like the physical chopping of the boat is going to drive the barge deeper into the mud each time and then will force sediment removal to occur and that could have huge environmental impact especially to the –

MARISA: Well, sure.

CLARICE: — osprey population around it.

MARISA: Because now you’re talking about dredging a water of the state which could invoke the Army Corps of Engineers as a jurisdictional element. You have to get a permit from them if you are undertaking an activity that will discharge or result in an impact to sediment. So now it’s at the state level. If you’re looking to invoke more provisions of the Clean Water Act, then the federal government gets involved.

CLARICE: So there’s a lot of issues surrounding this. I think it’s also important just to note that the boat is 114 feet and between 100 to 200 tons. So when I say boat, I want you guys to all envision a barge. Like this is thought any small feat to uplift. And then of course there is the nonenvironmental issue of money, finding the funding to clean this up. What’s the estimated cost. Where is all of this cost, you know, going to shake out. So I don’t know the answers to those, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it today.

MARISA: And where is the insurance carrier and where is the vessel owner? [inaudible].

CLARICE: From what I know the vessel owner has recently passed.

MARISA: Oh, that stinks.

CLARICE: I know. I’m not quite sure any more details on that. I know he’s passed. I don’t know who’s taking on responsibility of the boat, if that’s something that gets passed down or if the boat is now exclusively the state’s problem. Interesting read today.

MARISA: Yeah. And another factoid here is that I haven’t looked at the statute recently, so it might have been amended. And I’m vaguely recalling some type of amendment, but there is a statute in Rhode Island that does not allow anyone other than the State of Rhode Island through DEM to get involved with the salvage of abandoned vessels. Presumably based on what you’re telling me this sounds like an abandoned vessel issue, so the City of Providence could not, under the statute that I recall, get involved. It has to be the state.

[0:12:41] CLARICE: So this might be worth a follow-up if we get any more info. Yeah. If anybody works in maritime or has anything to do with maritime insurance, we’d love to hear your thoughts. If this is something that’s come up in your practice, give us some insights about it. Definitely worth following up. And next time you guys go down Interstate 95, just know there’s like 200 tons of boat down in that river and osprey are kind of hanging around there.

MARISA: Well, I appreciated this talk today, Clarice. It was not a mental heavy lift on my part and I hope everyone else found it entertaining because I did.

CLARICE: We have to treat it as a micro-mystery, so. And I said guillotine like seven times, so thank you, everybody.

MARISA: A bunch of times.

CLARICE: On that note, please let us know what your thoughts are. Send us interesting articles that you want us to ponder over. Reach out to us at Help@DesautelESQ.com. You could hit us up on Instagram. Like, subscribe, do all of those wonderful things and we’ll talk to you guys next week.

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