NBC 10 I-Team: No action on crane, barge 6 months after sinking
An NBC 10 I-Team investigation into a sunken crane and barge in the Providence River has uncovered a history of marine mishaps involving the rig’s owner.
On Oct. 9, 2017, the large crane and barge sank. Nearly seven months later, the rusted-out wreckage is still submerged in the waters of the upper Providence River.
“We're letting this huge debris stay in the river is kind of disappointing,” said Narragansett Baykeeper Michael Jarbeau of Save the Bay.
The NBC 10 I-Team visited the sunken site by boat and from the air and began asking questions.
The Coast Guard told the I-Team that the crane is "no longer a pollution threat or a hazard to navigation." The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers said it has "no involvement,” while the state's Department of Environmental Management said inspections show the barge is "not leaking fuel" and is not a "pollution threat."
In the end, DEM is not acting.
"Although the barge is an eyesore and a blight on the Providence River, Mr. (Mark) Ginalski is solely responsible for removing it,” Michael Healey, a spokesman, said.
Marine accidents and crime
The crane's owner, Mark Ginalski, 60, of East Providence, is no stranger to disasters and apparent accidents. Over the years, he's had a lot of boats and barges sink.
NBC 10 spoke to Ginalski in 2014, when his tugboat was stolen and sank in East Providence.
"I think whoever did this should pay,” he said.
In 2011, Ginalski was fined $67,000 by the federal government for a number of tugboat violations including causing an oil leak in coastal waters.
In 2002, a Ginalski barge sank in the Warren River. In 2001, he was fined $1,500 by OSHA after a crane he owned collapsed in Warren on Water Street, according to records.
Ginalski is also no stranger to legal trouble. State court records along with East Providence police reports show he's been arrested or charged 28 times in his life. The allegations over the years include selling crack cocaine, to stealing property and money.
The crane’s owner
The NBC 10 I-Team sent a letter to Ginalski and never received an answer. The I-Team went to Ginalski's house in Rumford.
"Get off my property,” he barked from his front door. He told the news crew to leave, but then immediately called the I-Team.
Here is what he said over the phone:
Mark Ginalski: "What are you doing in my yard with television cameras? What are you re------?
"You want your story. Call the Providence Fire Department and ask them why they watched it sink for three hours and I never got a f------ phone call. There's your f------ story buddy."
Incident reports from the Providence Fire Department do not substantiate the owner’s claim. First responders actually saved a pleasure boat that day by cutting it loose from the sinking barge.
A history of enforcement
Dr. Patrick Conley is an attorney and land developer. He once owned the property and pier where the crane sank.
“With government here in Rhode Island, particularly regulatory government, it seems they worship at the same church, and the minister there is 'Pastor Buck,'" he said.
Conley is currently battling DEM in court over another separate piece of property. When he owned the Providence land, he tried to fix it up by clearing trash and adding stone to the shoreline for a visiting ferry from Newport. In return, he was hit with a big bill.
“The Army Corps of Engineers realized what we did and fined me $2,500 for altering a coastal feature, namely a dump,” he said.
Conley said it's ironic because now the rusted out sunken crane and barge rests where Conley was hit with the fine.
“The unfortunate thing in this case is the Providence River seems to be treated differently than other parts of the bay. I would venture to guess that if a barge had sunk in any other part of the bay in any of our other extremely valuable and important harbors there would be this huge uproar to get this crane removed,” said Jarbeau.
Rhode Island lawmakers created a special fund to help remove abandoned ships and junk from state waters. The official name: Derelict and Abandoned Vessel and Obstruction Removal Commission. Every boater paying a registration fee contributes to the fund, which now has a $374,890 balance, according to DEM. But a DEM spokesperson said because the owner of the crane/barge is known to them, it does not consider the equipment eligible for the funds.
A spokesperson for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said the city’s legal team is aware of the situation and considering its options.