Wood Recycler’s Fate Vexing Elkhart’s OEMs

August 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Numerous representatives from the RV industry joined state and local legislators to discuss the importance of wood recycling businesses in Elkhart County , Ind., Monday (Aug. 16) during a meeting of the Elkhart County Commissioners.

Central to Monday’s discussion is the fact that VIM Recycling, one of the area’s largest recyclers of wood waste generated by local RV manufacturers, is currently in the process of being sold to Soil Solutions Co. of Columbia City, Ind., The Goshen News reported.

Due to the sale, VIM is currently unable to process any wood products brought to the facility, and will continue to be unable to do so until Soil Solutions is issued a recycling permit — permanent or temporary — by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

While this may seem like only a temporary obstacle, VIM is not the most popular place when it comes to members of a residential community located near the plant, many of whom have lodged complaints and even lawsuits against the company and its supporters over the years in connection with the plant’s noise, dust and odor emissions.

However, it is exactly these lawsuits and calls for VIM to be relocated or banned that have many RV industry officials crying foul.

According to Stacey Petrovas, special projects coordinator with Soil Solutions, the company applied for the recycling permit with IDEM on July 15, where it is currently awaiting processing.

“It’s on review” Petrovas said, noting that the IDEM solid waste permit group is currently scheduled to tour the facility on Aug. 25. “They want to see the facility first hand, and inspect the equipment, make sure there’s nothing else that needs to be addressed.”

In the meantime, local RV manufacturers have very few options when it comes to handling their wood waste, the majority of which is now heading directly to the county landfill.

This reality is of particular concern to Ed Bessinger, president of C & E Excavating of Elkhart, who attended Monday’s meeting to show his support for the VIM facility.

“You know, people need to know how valuable VIM is to the community,” Bessinger said. “If we don’t have a facility that can take this wood waste product … all this waste is going to go straight into our landfills.”

Bessinger noted that such a situation not only causes rapid filling of county landfill space needed for regular residential waste removal, but also causes significant increases in cost for RV manufacturers forced to pay the extra cost of dumping materials at the landfill instead of being able to have their wood products recycled.

“VIM is a valuable asset for us to get rid of these waste products,” Bessinger said. “VIM is one of the only facilities in the area where this type of wood waste can be recycled.”

According to VIM President Ken Will, the VIM facility has recently gone through a number of upgrades designed to make the facility safer, cleaner and more efficient.

“We’ve taken out all the bugs,” Will said, “so the new companies coming in to help VIM out of this situation will not have to deal with any of that.”

In addition, County Commissioner and Board of Zoning Appeals member Mike Yoder noted that the facility property, zoned Manufacturing-2, has recently been zoned to a Detailed Planed Unit Development, which includes a number of very specific restrictions designed to make the facility more palatable to its residential neighbors.

Such restrictions include:

  • Limits on material pile height.
  • Implementation of an indoor grinding mandate.
  • A limit on hours of operation.
  • Installation of additional access roads with access to fire hydrants in the event of a fire.

“The report was very favorable,” said Yoder with regard to VIM’s compliance with the restrictions, noting that in his opinion VIM has done an excellent job at operating within the DPUD restrictions.

Pat Donnelly, representative of Forest River Inc., said he is completely supportive of VIM’s operation in Elkhart County, and takes it as a personal affront to see the local community’s attack of company president Ken Will and his efforts.

“We’ve been satisfied with what he’s done, with what he’s trying to do,” Donnelly said. “We are truly unhappy to see that happen to a local businessman … who is friendly to our product.”

In addition, Forest River representative Mike Stump noted that it is a growing commitment within the RV industry to “go green,” a big part of which involves increasing the amount of RV waste recycled throughout the industry.

“Recycling is a major, major part of that,” Stump said. “It’s a direction we’re very proud to be going, and VIM is a big part of that.”

In the end, Yoder said that while it is the county’s goal to see everyone — both residential and commercial — happy with the VIM situation, it is his feeling that due to VIM being zoned M-2 and it’s recent track record of compliance, the facility has a right to operate, and the county supports that.

“It is what it is,” Yoder said. “We’re trying to support as best we can businesses that move us toward this recycling goal.”

Even so, Yoder encouraged citizens concerned with VIM’s operations to contact the county with their grievances, adding that citizens have the right to seek legal action if they have issue with how the VIM situation is being handled.

VIM received a $416,000 loan from the state of Indiana in 2000 to help build its recycling facility west of Elkhart. The company stopped making payments on the loan in may 2009. Meanwhile, the facility has been the target of neighbor complaints due to frequent fires and fears over groundwater and airborne dust contamination. The facility was heavily damaged in a 2007 fire that killed one worker.

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