Coconut Grove's 'Old Smokey' Lawsuit

Case Attorneys

Craig T. Downs

C. David Durkee

Jason Clark


“Old Smokey,” as it is colloquially called, was a municipal trash incinerator that operated in the segregated portion of Miami’s West Coconut Grove neighborhood for almost 50 years, beginning in 1926. Old Smokey was ultimately closed in 1970 after the City of Coral Gables, a predominately white neighborhood at the time, filed a nuisance lawsuit based on the fact that ash emitted from the Old Smokey incinerator was reaching its residents’ homes. The ash spewed across the community by the incinerator, and eventually buried across several West Coconut Grove parks, contained chemicals such dioxins, arsenic, lead and antimony – chemicals which are well-known to be harmful to human health.

Not only was this toxic ash emitted out of the smokestack, thereby affecting many residents who resided within a one-mile radius of Old Smokey, but also the burned debris from the incinerator was placed at various dumpsites in and around the Grove. These dumpsites have now been turned into public parks, and include Armbrister Park, Douglas Park, Blanche Park, Merrie Christmas Park, Billy Rolle Domino Park.

The residents of West Grove have developed higher rates of cancer, respiratory problems, endocrinological issues, skin conditions, and other various medical conditions due to exposure to the harmful ash. Evidence has revealed that the City of Miami authorities knew of the toxicity of the ash for years but failed to warn anyone.

If you visit or reside in Coconut Grove and have been affected by Old Smokey, you could be eligible for compensation. Don’t hesitate to explore your rights and seek justice by contacting The Downs Law Group at (305) 444-8226.

Lawsuit Background

The Downs Law Group has partnered with Louise Caro at Caro Law, P.A. to represent potential class members against the City of Miami (“the City) and Schmidt Consulting Engineers, Inc. (“SCS”).  In 2017 a Class Action Lawsuit was filed in the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit: Yvette Styles, et al. v. City of Miami and Schmidt Consulting Engineers, Inc. (“SCS”) (Case No. 17-22967). 

The gravamen of the Class Action is to hold the City and SCS responsible for damage caused by the solid waste incinerator operated at 3425 Jefferson Street (commonly referred to as “Old Smokey”) from 1926 through 1970.

In the 1920s, the City of Miami built an incinerator in the middle of the Jim Crow segregated West Grove. This neighborhood consisted (and still consists) of residential houses, schools, and churches. “Old Smokey” (the moniker for the incinerator) rained ash, soot, and stench upon the community and particularly on the surrounding one-mile radius.

The West Grove residents’ complaints and requests to the City for Old Smokey to be shut down were ignored until the City of Coral Gables, a predominately white neighborhood, filed a nuisance claim against the City of Miami. In 1970 the Court ordered the City to shut Old Smokey down. At that time, the City took no action to remediate the contamination it created from the operation of Old Smokey.

Ultimately, the incinerator was demolished in 1974, and the site was left dormant until 1979 when the City repurposed a portion of the site for its Fire Rescue Training Center. In 1983, the City allowed the Barnyard Community Center to be built on a portion of the site. In 2011, the City sought a permit to expand the Fire Training facility and was required (by newly enacted legislation) to perform an environmental assessment (“ESA”). The 2011 ESA report, along with further testing, revealed concentrations of arsenic, barium, benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), cadmium, and lead that exceeded safe exposure thresholds for residential areas and SCTL criteria.

As alleged in the class action complaint against the City of Miami, despite DERM requiring the remediation of the Old Smokey site in 2011, the City did not commence remediation until 2015. The City contracted with SCS Engineers in 2015 to remediate the Old Smokey site as well as Armbrister, Blanche, Billie Rolle, Merrie Christmas, and Douglas Parks. However, they failed to perform offsite sampling (and remediation) of parks, schools, and streets (Rights of Way) in the adjacent areas. When a sampling from these offsite areas was later conducted in 2016, levels of arsenic, barium, copper, lead and benzo(a)pyrene equivalents were found to exceed SCTL residential criteria. From 2016 through 2020, DERM has sampled Rights of Ways and has continued to find contamination. DERM has continued to put the City on notice of its need to repair past remediation efforts by SCS and to continue to remediate properties in the affected area.

As further alleged in the complaint, notwithstanding having detailed knowledge of the contaminants created by Old Smokey and being in possession of testing results confirming the existence of toxic chemicals in the soil, the City has failed to warn West Grove property owners and residents about the likely contamination of the soil, has not recommend that the residential soil be tested, and has allowed the property owners and nearby residents to be continuously exposed to the contamination in the soil through the air, groundwater and other means of discharge.

Learn More

2014 Film: “Old Smokey: A Community History” by The University of Miami School of Law