Just days after a Waxahachie recycling plant caught fire, prompting at least two area schools to be closed for the day, calls are being made for the facility to be closed for good.
Wednesday morning’s blaze at Oak Cliff Metals, which was battled by multiple Ellis County fire departments, was at least the sixth major fire since 2013, according to reports. Crews had to bring in water tankers because there are still no fire hydrants in the 500 block of Brown Industrial Road where the plant is located.
Among the chorus of people calling on the city to take action is Councilwoman Melissa Olson.
“I sent a formal request to the City yesterday to ask for revocation of the company’s SUP [Specific Use Permit],” Olson said. “This is not a decision to be taken lightly or made in haste, but the perpetual occurrence of these dangerous fires must stop. These are my thoughts on the subject and don’t necessarily reflect those of the City or the rest of Council.”
The City said while there may be justifiable reasons for the plant to be given the backdoor, it was too soon to give any conclusive details on next steps.
“While it is likely that this could be something Council discusses in the near future, it’s premature at this time to speculate on what direction they may or may not decide to take,” City Spokesperson Amy Borders explained.
Olson, who has been a council member since May of last year, said a possible closure of the plant was discussed in 2016. At the time, Kevin Strength was the mayor and current mayor, David Hill, was a councilman. The matter was laid to rest when the company said they had taken steps to prevent future explosions, Olson said.
“The company stated they had measures in place to stop more fires from getting out of control, but as we saw from [Wednesday’s] explosion and fire, either the system was not in place or possibly malfunctioning.”
The Daily Light obtained a copy of the minutes from a council meeting, dated June 20, 2016.
“On 3-7-16, City Council scheduled a public hearing to consider the SUP cancellation,” according to the report.
The reasons brought before the Council included, “frequent fires (8-24-13, 8-12-14, & 2-14-16), storage piles exceeding height limits, hours of operation and site does not provide adequate water to fight fires.”
“On 3-10-16, the City mailed a letter to Oak Cliff Recycling, Inc.,” the report continued. “The letter provided notice to Oak Cliff that the City sought to invoke the SUP cancellation clause…, subject to cancellation upon 90 days written notice. Since the letter, the owner met with the City to address the concerns. On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, the City of Waxahachie Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-0 to continue the Specific Use Permit (SUP).”
The measures that the company stated they had put in place to prevent future were outlined in the report.
“Ms. Kelly Dakan, and Mr. Benjie Smith, owners of Oak Cliff Metals reported they are installing a thermal detection system with 4 cameras that monitor the 4 piles of metal,” the minutes read. “Ms. Dakan explained it is designed to detect temperature and pinpoint hotspots and shoot foam extinguishing the heat preventing a fire. Ms. Dakan stated it is installed and being tested and will have 24 hour monitoring by Wednesday, June, 22, 2016.”
Of the four council members present at the June 20, 2016, city council meeting, three voted in favor of continuing the SUP: Mayor Kevin Strength, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Singleton and councilman Chuck Beatty. Councilwoman Mary Lou Shipley, who is the current mayor pro tem, cast the only dissenting vote. Beatty remains a councilman with the current council.
Residents say enough is enough and have taken to the city’s Facebook page to voice their concerns.
“This is caused by neglect of local Government,” Ron Gillespie wrote. “ No Water you can't fight a Fire. Should have taken care of this years ago.”
“This business is an eyesore and I wish the city would close it down,” Chad Forkner added to the discussion.
“They need to be shut down,” Pamela Morris McGoman exclaimed. “They use to be in Dallas County but moved here in Ellis County to try to get away with stuff.”
“Tests conducted by the TCEQ and EPA regarding air quality in the area of the fire have not detected any harmful levels,” the city posted Wednesday.
Olson, however, offered a different account from residents living nearby.
“I have seen video footage of this latest incident from residents who live close to the business and heard from them asking for help as well,” Olson maintained. “These fires are putting their health and homes in danger.”
The council “will be reviewing their SUP at a minimum,” Olson added.
The cause of Wednesday’s fire is still under investigation, officials said.
Chopped up pieces of metal not being properly cooled have been blamed for some previous flames, according to reports. A July 2016 burning reportedly caused about $80,000 in equipment damages.
Oak Cliff Metals officials did not return calls for comment.