Parkersburg working with Naik companies on fire code violations

A worker uses a forklift to move material at the Greenpack #2 facility at 821 Jeanette St., Parkersburg, Monday afternoon. Parkersburg Municipal Court Judge Debra Steed told a Naik companies representative Monday to have the facility emptied of material by June 10. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — The Naik group of companies is working with Parkersburg officials to address safety concerns at its facilities within the city.

In December, Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews issued 20 citations on eight Naik properties, dealing with sprinkler and fire alarm systems and clear aisleways through and exits from the buildings. Since then, a company representative has remained in contact with Matthews and Municipal Court Judge Debra Steed to update them on what is being done to remedy the issues.

On Monday, Steed dismissed two of the citations during a hearing in which Matthews said the issues had been dealt with to his satisfaction.

“There’s nothing in front of any of the exits now,” Matthews said of the GRC building at the former Corning plant at 1624 Staunton Turnpike. “All the doors have been cleared of debris. Exit signs have been put up.

“They’ve made a lot of progress at that building,” he said.

Sunny Naik, a representative for Naik properties, right, appears in Parkersburg Municipal Court Monday along with Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews, center, before Judge Debra Steed to discuss the status of required improvements at Naik company facilities in the city. Matthews issued 20 citations but fines have not yet been levied as the company works to remedy the issues. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Steed instructed Sunny Naik, a representative for the Naik properties, to take care of three specific issues by or prior to the next scheduled hearing in June — removing material that releases gas in heated conditions from one building, emptying another and having sprinkler systems inspected at three buildings.

“You guys keep working together,” Steed said.

The Naik plastic storage and recycling businesses came under scrutiny after a massive fire destroyed the Intercontinental Export and Import (IEI) Plastics warehouse at the former Ames shovel plant on Camden Avenue, just outside Parkersburg, in October 2017. The cause of the fire remains undetermined, but concern over what materials were stored there, the condition of that storage and whether similar situations posed a risk elsewhere in the area prompted inspections of at least 20 Naik-owned properties in Wood and Jackson counties and a number of other warehouse facilities.

The Parkersburg Fire Department was involved with the initial inspections of the properties in city limits in fall 2017 and follow-up inspections in spring 2018. When follow-up inspections were conducted last fall, the city handled them for the former Corning plant, three structures on Jeanette Street, the Atlas Steel and Green Sustainable Solutions facility at 625 Depot St. and multiple buildings in the Naik-owned complex on Gateman Drive off 29th Street.

Matthews said in an interview last week the initial state inspections provided a “baseline” and improvements were noted in the spring of 2018.

Parkersburg Municipal Court Judge Debra Steed listens as Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews discusses progress made on correcting fire code violations at facilities owned by the Naik group of companies during a hearing Monday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“When we went back last fall, the improvement wasn’t there,” he said.

After Monday’s hearing, Naik did not dispute that assessment.

“A lot of it has to do with budgeting,” he said. “We lost more money this year than we made in the last five. … We’re not going to let that stop us from making a safe workplace.”

Matthews said he met with Naik company representatives in December and issued the 20 citations related to the properties, focusing on significant safety violations involving sprinklers, fire alarms, egress and cluttered aisles.

“That was due to too much product,” Matthews said, regarding the aisles. “That was throughout the buildings in the city.”

Sunny Naik, a representative for Naik properties, speaks during an appearance in Parkersburg Municipal Court Monday to discuss the status of work being done to address fire code violations cited at Naik facilities in the city. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

While numerous other fire code violations were cited in state inspections, Matthews said he’s focused on the most serious.

“We’re working on big things,” he said, adding that other issues — such as repairing emergency lights and replacing exit signs — have been addressed in the process as well.

Scheduling issues for the city and Sunny Naik delayed the first hearing until March 18, but Matthews said he was in contact with Naik officials and monitoring their work before that.

“I had met with his (Sunny Naik’s) maintenance people and seen some improvement during that time,” he said.

After the initial hearing, the case was continued to Monday.

The Atlas Steel and Green Sustainable Solutions facility at 625 Depot St., Parkersburg, is shown Monday. Owners are working to address fire code violations cited there, Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews said. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“Would we like to see it faster? Absolutely,” Matthews said. “To make the progress, we’re willing to work with them on it.”

The chief acknowledged that it will take time to make all the needed improvements, saying it took time to get in that condition and many of the facilities are older buildings.

“If we would say … ‘You can’t operate in this building,’ the problem would still be there,” Matthews said.

Naik told Steed Monday that the company has spent $450,000 in the last 18 months on sprinkler repair alone. Despite the expenses, he said, the business has been able to maintain 256 jobs in West Virginia.

“These are things that you always have to put time and money into,” Naik said after the hearing. “It’s financially taxing on us for sure, but Wood County is our home. It’s where we built our business.”

Naik said the work isn’t just to fix problems here and there but to modernize facilities.

“Some of our properties are 55, 60, 70 years old,” he said. “We’re upgrading these facilities.”

Some of them might have to eventually be replaced, Naik said.

The most citations, five, were issued for the Atlas building at 625 Depot St. It also had the most violations noted in a fall 2017 inspection by the state, with 46.

One dealt with the proper storage or disposal of hazardous material. On Monday, Matthews said the business needs to remove plastic pellets, called sparger, stored there because in heated conditions, the material can give off an odor that is an irritant.

Naik said the initial estimate he received to do that was $98,000. While that expenditure had been approved, he said a second quote came in much lower and he is looking to proceed with that one.

“But you’re not going to sacrifice any safety measures?” Steed said.

Naik said he would not and the company would proceed with the higher quote if progress could not be made.

Steed said she wanted that addressed before his next scheduled appearance in court on June 10.

The sprinkler systems at the Depot Street site and 814 and 835 Jeanette should all be inspected by that date as well, Steed said.

At Matthews’ request, Steed told Naik that all material needs to be removed from the warehouse at 821 Jeanette St. by the next hearing. Naik said 27 truckloads had been removed among the three Jeanette Street facilities, working out to about a truckload per business day.

“If we stay at the same rate, we should have enough time to do that,” he said.

Matthews said 821 Jeanette St. is a smaller building but does not have a required sprinkler system.

“Their option is to empty that building out or install a sprinkler system,” he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he’s been in regular contact with Matthews about the situation.

“I trust him explicitly to exercise judgment, discretion and authority to make the public, his men and our community safe,” Joyce said. “His efforts as relayed to me show an ability to focus on those compliance issues that will mitigate a repeat of the fire from 2017 while assuring the property (owners) take responsibility for removals and repairs.”

Other Naik properties in Vienna, Washington, around Parkersburg and Ravenswood continue to be subject to state inspections, although no citations have been issued.

“The State Fire Marshal’s Office and its partners continue to work with the property owners to address any issues arising from the inspections,” West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Director Lawrence Messina said via email.

Messina added that follow-up inspections were conducted in the last several weeks and the outcomes are expected to be announced in the near future.

A look at the citations

* Atlas Steel and Green Sustainable Solutions LLC, 625 Depot St. — Fire alarm system needs inspection; sprinkler system needs inspection; aisles need maintained; addition of another means of egress; hazardous materials stored properly or disposed of. Four of these items were noted in state inspections. Multiple mentions were made of the sprinkler system and the need to evaluate whether it was adequate for the building and its use, but the state reports did not specifically note a lack of an annual inspection of the system.

* GRC (old Corning plant), 1624 Staunton Turnpike — Fire alarm system needs inspected, perhaps enhanced; means of egress need maintained (dismissed). Both issues were noted in state inspections.

* GreenPak, 814 Jeanette St. — Fire alarm system needs inspection; sprinkler system needs inspection; aisles and exits need maintained. Similar issues were noted in October 2017 and April 2018 inspections by the state.

* Greenpack #2, 821 Jeanette St. — Sprinkler system installed or building separated; addition of another means of egress; aisles need maintained. The absence of a sprinkler system and need to clear aisles were mentioned in state inspections.

* Jeanette Street Warehouse (White Dove), 835 Jeanette St. — Sprinkler system needs inspection; addition of another means of egress; aisles and exits need maintained. All three issues were noted by state inspectors as well.

* 3005 Gateman Drive (Building J) — Fire alarm system needs inspected; sprinkler system needs inspected (dismissed). Sprinkler system was out of service on initial state inspection.

* 3101 Gateman Drive (Building B) — Sprinkler system needs inspected. Need for repairs to the sprinkler system were noted in state inspections.

* 3107 Gateman Drive (Building D) — Sprinkler system needs inspected. Sprinkler system was out of service during state inspections.