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Liveable Saint John to host town hall about concerns following American Iron and Metal fire

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A Saint John, N.B.-based organization is hosting a town hall meeting to allow residents and stakeholders to discuss concerns about the American Iron and Metal facility and the fire that disrupted the Saint John region two weeks ago.

Residents who live in the uptown area and on the west side have been contending with the recycling facility for more than a decade, including large explosions, at least two large fires and two workplace-related deaths.

Liveable Saint John said the last fire has made the situation too serious to ignore.

“So, I think maybe it’s the first time we really had a complete understanding of the risk that we’re all taking by having this facility,” said Raven Blue with LSJ.

On Sept. 14 around 1 a.m., an outside fire was reported at the Port of Saint John. It was burning out of a 30-foot pile of scrap metal at AIM.

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Crews, according to SJ fire Chief Kevin Clifford, called for a full response.

The fire was rooted deep within a 30-foot pile of crushed cars and scrap metal. Flames could be seen shooting out of the top of the pile as ladder truckers poured water over the pile.

It produced a massive plume of smoke, which public health said likely had toxic chemicals and contaminants in it that could harm a person’s health, that lasted for at least two days.

In total, 83 firefighters battled the fire for more than 40 hours and 17 minutes, Clifford wrote in a letter.

“Over 22 million gallons of water flowed on the industrial fire, and for the fires, much of the water came from the Saint John Harbour,” Clifford said.

But little is known about the longer-term impacts of the fire on the environment and the residents. The province issued a stop work order to AIM and has commissioned a task force to investigate how the fire started.

Premier Blaine Higgs promised to make those findings public.

“I’m not sure how much people – in the area, in the Saint John Harbour area – have been impacted in the past 10 years,” Blue said. “In terms of their quality of life, their property value, just the ability to open their windows.”

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Coun. David Hickey said he has heard from a lot of constituents following the fire – all with legitimate concerns.

“There is an impact to this community and it is having really significant impacts on residents,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The narrative has been the same since the fire: AIM has to go.”

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Hickey has been vocal about his opposition to AIM operating out of the Port of Saint John. He called for the recycling facility to be shut down following the fire.

“The impact of the fire is one that is understood and is one that is being appropriately managed by both the city and the province,” he said. “Questions are coming up from the community.”

He said those include long-term health impacts for the two days of poor air quality, whether it’s safe to eat food from an outdoor community garden following the fire, and the implications of letting AIM continue to operate.

Hickey is also a resident of Waterloo Village in the uptown and says he has lived here his whole life and understands on a more personal level the risk associated with the company’s operation.

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He doesn’t believe there is a place for AIM in the Saint John region and he added that with the growth of the port, there is plenty of development opportunity there that won’t harm residents.

“The real recognition is that AIM is not in the right spot and that means, hopefully, an end to its operating licence,” he said.

Global News reached out to American Iron and Metal, which has been invited to the town hall, and is awaiting a response.

The town hall meeting will take place at King’s Square at 6 p.m.