Make your home page

EPA removes 4,800 tons of rubble from Richmond fire site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleaned hazardous fire rubble from two city-owned properties impacted by the April 11, 2023, plastics fire. Photo by Mike Emery

(WESTERN WAYNE NEWS) — A five-month cleanup effort has removed most traces of last April’s devastating Richmond, Indiana, plastics fire from two of three North West F Street properties involved.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed about 4,800 tons of debris from the two city-owned sites — at 310 and 358 N.W. F St. — Mayor Ron Oler told Richmond Common Council during its April 1 meeting. About 800 tons of steel were cleaned on site and recycled locally, and another 4,000 tons of asbestos-containing material was hauled to an EPA-approved landfill elsewhere.

Federal SuperFunds paid the $2.8 million bill.

“I expected to go out there and see concrete and dirt and gravel and all charred mess, and I was impressed,” Oler said about the cleaned properties.

A smokestack and boiler building remain on the city’s properties. Oler said the EPA tried to knock over the smokestack, but it’s filled with concrete. The city now is working to make the properties as safe as possible.

“There are a lot of pits and basements and loading ramps, and the city’s in the process of infilling those for fall hazards, because we know people will likely trespass on it,” Oler said.

The city’s sanitation, street and landfill departments are handling the project to save on what would have been an $80,000 expense, Oler said. One pit is 15 feet deep.

“Instead of paying outside contractors, the city just stepped up and collaborated, so we can fill these using our equipment,” Oler said. “That’s working out well.” 

Truck trailers remain on the west end of the three properties and fire debris remains on the eastern property — 308 N.W. F St. — that’s still owned by Seth Smith and Cornerstone Trading Group LLC. Oler said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the city continue working to force Smith to clean the property, but Oler said the city might need to clean it. The EPA did not clean that property because no hazardous materials were located in its debris.

The mayor said he hopes to sell the cleaned city-owned properties. Smith’s company had spread plastics across the three North West F Street properties and ignored Unsafe Building Commission orders to clean them. The city acquired the two properties using tax sale procedures to work with Smith toward cleanup.

The fire began April 11 and quickly spread to consume all three properties, sending a plume of black, toxic smoke skyward. Residents within a half-mile of the site were evacuated until April 16.

Air conditioner program

During its meeting, council unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with Wayne Township Trustee Susan Isaacs for a Beat the Heat program that will provide and install window air conditioners.

Isaacs will accept applications and administer the program that will provide 43 air conditioners to qualifying households. 

Those households meeting income requirements will be prioritized based on four factors: having an individual 65 or older, having an individual with a disability, having a child younger than 6 with an increased medical need for air conditioning and being located within a city heat vulnerability index priority area.

This story was originally published by Wayne Western News.