Public Health & Recreation

Another Fire at Providence Scrapyard Renews Calls for Its Closure

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A recent fire at Rhode Island Recycled Metals was the second in the past three months. (Save The Bay)

PROVIDENCE — A second fire in the past three months at a controversial scrapyard on the city’s waterfront has renewed calls for the Allens Avenue operation to be shut down.

A thick plume of smoke could be seen for miles after a pile of scrap metal at Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM) caught fire July 10 around 11 a.m. Fire officials were on the scene for several hours. No injuries were reported. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Coast Guard were called in to monitor air quality and check for possible environmental harms.

Attorney General Peter Neronha, Save The Bay, and three local elected officials were quick to call for RIRM’s closure.

“Rhode Island Recycled Metals presents an ongoing environmental nuisance and public safety hazard,” Neronha said in a July 10 statement. “Today’s fire at their facility is yet another example of RIRM’s inability to safely operate.”

On the afternoon of the fire, representatives from the attorney general office’s appeared before Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Brian Stern to request the court immediately shut down the operation. The AG’s office also argued for the court to immediately convert the special mastership into a receivership.

The court took those matters under advisement and scheduled a hearing for Friday, July 12, at 11 a.m. RIRM has agreed that it will not resume operations prior to the hearing.

Neronha said his office will be formally filing a motion for an emergency preliminary injunction to shut down RIRM and to convert the special mastership into a receivership.

“It has now become more than evident that the monitoring and oversight provided by the special mastership is not enough,” he said.

As the RIRM fire burned, Ward 10 City Council member Pedro Espinal, Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, and Rep. Jose Batista, D-Providence, released a joint statement, writing:

“As the elected legislators who represent this area, we are furious at yet another environmental disaster at our neighborhood pariah, Rhode Island Recycled Metals. The third fire in three years, and second this year, is so big it is taking 30 firefighters to battle it, depleting resources and wasting taxpayer dollars.”

They called RIRM “a bad faith actor whose negligence and malfeasance are poisoning South Providence residents.” They demanded “the immediate closure of the scrapyard, and will continue to explore every possible legal mechanism at the city and state’s disposal to … end this public health nightmare.”

The fire at the controversial scrapyard was the third in three years and second this year. (Save The Bay)

Save The Bay, with its headquarters on the other side of the Providence River from RIRM, issued a press release calling the scrapyard operation a continued threat to public health and Narragansett Bay.

Save The Bay staff said they witnessed the fire from the water and saw how quickly the smoke spread across the Providence River and into surrounding neighborhoods.

From a boat in the Providence River, Mike Jarbeau, baykeeper for Save The Bay, watched firefighters battle the flames.

“These fires put the lives of first responders at risk, jeopardize the health of nearby residents and people who work on the waterfront, and the health of the river and the bay,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Calls for RIRM’s closure were also made when an April fire broke out, which sent plumes of smoke over much of South Providence. Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Smith ruled against the city’s effort to shut down the operation.

RIRM blamed the April fire on arson.

RIRM has been fouling the air and water in the upper Providence River area for more than a decade, Save The Bay told ecoRI News in November 2014. The scrapyard is one of several operations responsible for making Allens Avenue one of the most unpleasant stretches of road in Rhode Island.

The area is marked by or has suffered from a headache-inducing stink, dilapidated buildings, mountains of scrap metal, hills of illegally piled asphalt, graffiti, chain-link fences, vacant lots and parking lots blazoned with plastic waste, overgrown vegetation that obstructs sidewalks, bicycle lanes covered with grit, heavy truck traffic, and idling vehicles.

Update: On July 12, Superior Court Judge Brian Stern ordered Rhode Island Recycled Metals to stay closed until further notice. He granted a temporarily restraining order against the operation and directed a special master to review practices at the waterfront scrapyard to determine whether the company has made any efforts to try to prevent similar fires from happening in the future.

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