R.I. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether former BDA mill property should receive fire protection services

R.I. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether former BDA mill property should receive fire protection services

PROVIDENCE — The state Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned lawyers for the three parties involved in a dispute over who should provide fire protection to the former Bradford Dyeing Association mill property, now know as the Bradford Industrial Park.

Robert Lombardo, the attorney for BPF Realty LLC., which has owned the 61-acre, five-building property on Bradford Road since 2010, has appealed a 2017 Superior Court ruling that the Dunn’s Corners Fire District is under no obligation to provide firefighting or other services to the property because it lies outside of the Bradford Fire District. The Bradford district is served under a contract with Dunn’s Corners.

Lombardo argues that Superior Court Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo’s ruling was improper because it did not resolve the question of who should provide service to the property. Lombardo also questions whether the BPF property is truly outside the bounds of the Bradford Fire District.

Dunn’s Corners Fire District sued BPF in 2015 after it refused to pay a bill the district submitted to the company for the cost of responding to numerous false alarms at the property. Lombardo said BPF considered the bill to be “exorbitant.” The bill was $20,000, for September 2014 to November 2015.

If deemed to be part of a fire district, Lombardo said the company would pay it taxes. The alarm system at the complex had been tied into the Dunn’s Corners system. But after the fire district upgraded its system, the company did not tie into the new system. Firefighters can now be dispatched to the property only if a witness reports smoke or fire.

As he had to the lower court, Lombardo argued on Wednesday that the Town of Westerly should be brought into the case because of ongoing public safety concerns. He said his requests to the Westerly Town Council and other town officials for assistance had been rebuffed.

Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg, a former Westerly town attorney, said Lombardo should have contacted the town’s legislative delegation to ask that the Bradford Fire District boundaries be withdrawn, rather than seeking the Town council’s help. The charter issued by the state General Assembly in 1937 establishing the Bradford Fire District left the plant property outside of the district. At the time, McKenna Goldberg noted, the mill was thriving and had its own fire protection.

Lombardo argued that a revision to the charter in 1957 had the effect of including the mill property in the district. He also argued that the Bradford Fire District  provided fire protection services until the district contracted with Dunn’s Corners in 2013. In response to a question from Chief Justice Paul Suttell, Lombardo noted that BPF asked to be allowed into the Bradford Fire District in 2014 but was denied.

Medical marijuana growers are among the tenants in the industrial park, Lombardo said.

Justice Gilbert V.  Indeglia asked whether the Dunn’s Corner’s Fire District had a “moral obligation” to respond to fire calls at the industrial park. Lombardo said he believed the district’s firefighters would respond in the event of a fire. Brian Bliss, the attorney for Dunn’s Corners, agreed that the district’s firefighters would respond to fire calls at the park.

When asked whether the district would be open to allowing the property into the district, Bliss said, “at this time they would not because the plant hasn’t paid its bill.”

Michael Ursillo, who represents the Westerly Ambulance Corps,  said his client simply wants to know who to dispatch when it receives reports of fires or alarms at the BPF property. The corps operates a regional 911 dispatch center.

The court is expected to make a decision in the coming months.





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