Turning from highway U.S. 1 onto Grand Avenue, visitors to Coconut Grove are met with a view of the Miami-Dade Fire Fighting Training College, built on the former site of the City of Miami Incinerator #2. Colloquially known as Old Smokey, the municipal solid waste incinerator loomed over the historically Jim Crow segregated Coconut Grove Village West community for decades. Clouds of ash and toxic fumes became commonplace in the West Grove from 1926 to 1971, and much of the refuse from Old Smokey’s 300-ton-per-day operation was buried locally on the sites of what are now parks and schools.
Students Abigail Fleming and Lauren Oswald, law students speak with resident, Sammy Jackson
In 2013, as part of a larger investigation into the city’s siting of the Coral Gables Trolley Garage bus depot on the north side of the West Grove, the Environmental Justice Project at the Center for Ethics and Public Service discovered City of Miami records documenting contamination at the Fire Training College. To date, the City of Miami has failed to inform the residents of the dangers of the incinerator ash, comprehensively test affected parks, schools, and homes, or fully remediate the contamination pervading parks, schools, and homes.
Now the Environmental Justice Clinic is collaborating with a team of civic-minded law firms, including Napoli Shkolnik, to seek justice for the West Grove residents. In September 2017, Napoli Shkolnik filed a class action complaint against the City of Miami and others on behalf of past and present West Grove residents requesting compensatory damages and medical monitoring.
Old Smokey is one of several projects of the EJC. Reflecting the need in the community and the interest of students, the EJC has once again grown this year, adding new interns to its many environmental justice projects addressing both the built and natural environment in South Florida. These projects and experiences are invaluable not only to the community, but also to the students. EJC intern Catalina Rodriguez was excited to join the EJC and as a 2L brings fresh energy to the Old Smokey team that includes three returning 3Ls.
"The Environmental Justice Clinic is one of the main reasons I chose Miami Law and, now that I'm in it, I feel like I'm a part of something bigger than I'd ever imagined,” Rodriguez said. “I can't wait to keep learning from the brilliant and hardworking fellows I was lucky enough to be teamed with."