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City leaders say pandemic, debts slowed Richmond recycling facility cleanup efforts

City records show slow-moving process to vacate and remediate recycling site.

RICHMOND, Ind. — Richmond leaders say the COVID-19 pandemic, debt and the owner of My-Way Trading prevented it from remediating the property it had flagged as a fire hazard in 2019.

When pushed to answer why the city did not shut down and clean up the facility sooner, city attorney A.J. Sickmann told reporters, “Well, the city didn’t create this problem.”

On Thursday, 13 Investigates uncovered a letter Sickmann sent on Oct. 27, 2020, on behalf of the City of Richmond. It was a notice to the attorney for My-Way Trading stating the company needed to “immediately begin the process of vacating all of the sites that are subject to the Unsafe Building Order.”

The letter went on to say, “This will allow the City to begin the process of remediating the health and safety violations that exist at the subject properties. I appreciate your prompt and professional attention to this matter...”

The letter came seven months after a judge upheld the Richmond Unsafe Building Commission's Order to Repair, Demolish or Vacate.

The city pointed out there were structural issues at the site, boxes stacked to the ceiling and hazardous materials. It also detailed numerous issues with fire alarms, extinguishers and suppression equipment, and even used owner Seth Smith’s testimony that he knew the properties were "out of control.”

So out of control, local leaders requested the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conduct an "air plume study” because they were worried about a fire and "possible evacuations of the area."

Despite those concerns, the city never shut down the facility. Sickmann said there were a few reasons for a delay, including the owner’s debt to a bank.

"It wasn't like the city could start removing things and disposing of them because of that collateral that the bank had,” Sickmann said.

"Unfortunately, with the pandemic, it became a down market, and the business owner was having some difficulties selling those materials but was actively doing that, and the city was monitoring that process,” Sickmann said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see that come to fruition prior to the fire event.”

He stated the city was monitoring the process but did not have a timeline for the owner to vacate the premises.

City leaders maintain it did what it could, and legal liability lies with the property owner.

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