Waxahachie City Council holds public hearing to decide future of recycling plant after December fire

Patrick Clarke
This early morning blaze at Oak Cliff Metals in December of last year was at least the 6th major one since 2013, according to reports. [Jake Shannon/CBSDFW]

During its first regular meeting of the year, the Waxahachie City Council listened to fired-up residents who aired concerns about the Oak Cliff Metals recycling plant, Monday.

The hearing was scheduled amid a public outcry for the plant to be shut down after a large fire broke out in December, which was reportedly the sixth blaze since 2013.

“This is the third time we’ve been here at the City Council on issues with [Oak Cliff Metals],” said Cheryl Wilson who lives less than three miles from the plant, located at 500 Brown Industrial Road. “This past fire was horrendous… Also, when they first moved there we were told that their stacks of scrap would be no more than 10 feet high. They got a 40-foot mountain of stuff out there now.”

“I just hope that this time something is done. It’s scary to live somewhere that a flame could be to my house in less time than it would take me to get my dogs into my truck and get out my driveway,” Wilson continued. “I’ve lived there for 22 years and I really don’t want to have to leave ‘cause I got burned out from a fire that started over there again.”

Others implored the council to take action that would solve the problem, yet keep the plant operating in the city because of the jobs it provides.

“Understandably, if the city takes action to revoke their permit, they would have to close down,” Alan Fox reasoned. “That will affect local people working here. That will affect income through taxes to the city, but do we wait for lawsuits to follow in case there is a major catastrophe at that site?… I implore you to do whatever you can do to make sure that the possibility is no longer part of our future.”

Julia Eiland, a 17-year employee at the facility, spoke in support of Co-owner Benjie Smith who was also present at the meeting. Eiland assured the Council necessary steps are being taken to prevent future fire-related occurrences.

“Mr. Smith has already laid out the plans to resolve the issue that has caused the huge problem…,” Julia Eiland explained. “By having Oak Cliff Metals in our city and in our county, we are keeping our streets and our roadways clean as well as our landfills from scrap metal that will not deteriorate, will not go away. It will fill our landfills. Mr. Smith is there for Oak Cliff Metals and all of the city of Waxahachie and all of Ellis and surrounding counties to help with what we all want – a green earth, recycle, save, clean, reuse.”

Eiland also told the Council to consider the people whose income comes from the plant.

“He does not just employ 60 to 70 employees in Waxahachie… He employs hundreds of people because every individual that takes the initiative to pick up that piece of scrap metal off of the yard, off of the street, out of the fieldways of our roadways and bring into us to allow us to buy from them, is working. It keeps people with food on their table, gas in their automobiles and money to spend in our stores in Waxahachie because he gives that opportunity.”

The plant owners, Smith and Kelly Dakan, previously stated they had measures in place to prevent future flames, according to the minutes of a June 20, 2016 Council meeting. Most of the plant’s fires have been reportedly caused by chopped up pieces of metal not being properly cooled.

Councilwoman Melissa Olson, who publicly called for the plant to be shut down, sent a formal request to the City in December to have the plant’s Specific Use Permit revoked.

“This is not a decision to be taken lightly or made in haste, but the perpetual occurrence of these dangerous fires must stop,” Olson told the Daily Light.

The Council will hold a second public hearing within 90 days in April.

“The Council will have the ability to either revoke, amend or discontinue the SUP at that point, so a lot of choices there and I hope that we can begin that dialogue soon,” said City Manager Michael Scott as he looked directly at Smith.