Public Health & Recreation

Recent Fire at R.I. Recycled Metals Adds to Concerns About Controversial Scrapyard


Scrap home appliances were among the items that caught fire at Allens Avenue scrapyard. (DEM)

PROVIDENCE — A fire that broke out last Wednesday night at Rhode Island Recycled Metals is the latest issue facing the controversial Allens Avenue scrapyard, which city officials are trying to shut down amid a license dispute.

Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Smith ruled April 12 against the city’s effort to shut down the operation. The case was continued until May 3.

City officials have claimed Rhode Island Recycled Metals (RIRM) has been ignoring a cease-and-desist order sent to the 434 Allens Ave. business early last month. The city is also trying to obtain $158,000 in property taxes it claims is owed by the business.

RIRM has said it has all the required permitting and doesn’t need an additional license from the city.

Mayor Brett Smiley’s administration has added the April 10 fire to the list of reasons why action should be taken against the scrapyard along the Providence River.

Plumes of smoke from the fire spread over much of South Providence.

Ward 10 City Council member Pedro Espinal, who represents the South Providence and Washington Park neighborhoods, released an April 11 statement regarding the fire.

“The fire that burned last night and into the early morning hours off Allens Avenue sent thick black smoke throughout the surrounding neighborhoods in South Providence and contaminated water runoff into the Providence River,” he wrote “Fortunately, no one was hurt, but enough is enough. Rhode Island Recycled Metals is a dangerous business that has repeatedly jeopardized our environment, our firefighter’s safety, and our resident’s health.”

Espinal noted the business has “ignored a cease-and-desist order from the city” and “regulatory requirements from the state. This business needs to be shut down immediately.”

He said he had spoken to Smiley about “how we can take more effective action” and contacted Attorney General Peter Neronha for the state’s help.

“The health of our residents is our top priority, and this business has neglected those concerns for far too long. It must end now,” his statement concluded.

A RIRM spokesperson told WPRI company officials suspect foul play and operations had nothing to do with the blaze. He said the fire started in a pile of iron comprising non-combustible material and it began just hours after “trespassers had to be removed from the area.”

The Providence Fire Department is reportedly still investigating the cause.

Firefighters were called to the property at around 11:30 p.m. for a fire that reportedly had started in a 100-foot by 100-foot pile of scrap metal.

The city isn’t the only branch of government fighting RIRM. The riverfront operation has been the focus of a long-running legal dispute with state authorities.

In December the state Department of Environmental Management fined the company $25,000, claiming it failed to submit a public involvement plan by a Dec. 15 deadline. RIRM appealed, calling the penalty “arbitrary, capricious, excessive, unfair, unreasonable, and in excess of statutory and regulatory authority.”

Last May Neronha sent a letter to those concerned about RIRM’s operations.

“Over the past thirteen years, the State has invested a great deal of time mounting a concerted legal effort to bring the RIRM site into compliance with all environmental laws,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, these efforts continue to this day, and we continue to have multiple meetings and court conferences each month related to RIRM’s (non)compliance with environmental law.”

While firefighters were battling the blaze, DEM staff were called to the scene and determined that air pollution and runoff into the Providence River were not an issue.

“DEM found no sheens or oil in the water & existing pollution controls, such as multiple hay booms on land & a hard boom in the water, are still in place,” according to an April 11 social media post. “The hard boom has contained some debris, mostly small pieces of Styrofoam & wood chips that might have washed over the hay boom due to fire suppression efforts.”

DEM noted a member of the Office of Emergency Response, the agency’s hazmat team, responded to the scene after 1 a.m. and observed firefighters suppressing a fire on a large pile of home appliances, including washers, dryers, and refrigerators.

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  1. It is time to lock up the owners and for the Governor to step up and close the criminals down. And the judge holding up the closure is an idiot. who does not mind poisoning the people of South Providence and Washington Park. the judge should be fired for malfeasance.

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