RICHMOND, Ind. — The owner of the Richmond plastics recycling business, which has been burning for three days now, has not made any public comment or made himself available to answer questions.
However, a cache of documents and recordings released by the city attorney on Thursday reveals that owner Seth Smith acknowledged years ago there was a problem on the grounds of the business.
Smith’s voice is clear in an audio recording of a September 2019 meeting of the Richmond Unsafe Buildings Commission.
“Just by the pictures, I will admit myself, there’s a lot of work to do be done there,” said Smith.
Weeks and months earlier, fire and building inspectors had examined the property and taken lots of photographs. The photos, which show a business in extreme disarray, were used to prove multiple safety and fire code violations.
Pallets of scrap plastic were stacked up two and three high, haphazardly arranged on the grounds. Some were on the edge of property close to neighboring buildings and homes.
The buildings were similarly packed with plastic. One structure had a large hole in the roof. Other photos showed building exits blocked.
The fear was the business had grown into a massive fire hazard.
Smith explained to commission members that his business fell into chaos while he was ill. In his absence, two men were hired to run the business.
“Their paychecks were generated by how many pounds of materials were brought in,” said Smith.
And lots of scrap plastic rolled into the business, with less going out in sales. The result was plastic in all directions.
Smith admitted: “(It) got out of control.”
The commission would eventually give Smith 90 days to eliminate fire and other safety hazards on the property. Before that time lapse, Smith took the city to court in what would be an unsuccessful attempt to get the clean-up order tossed out.
At the time of the commission’s meeting the city’s fear of a fire on the property was strong enough, that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration did a smoke plume study to help officials which areas may need evacuation if a fire broke out.
In the three and a half years between the commission meeting and the fire, it remains unclear how much plastic had been removed from the property.