Muncie residents say they’ll move if steel dust recycling facility comes

A Waelz Sustainable Products plant is slated to go on the site of the former Borg Warner plant on Kilgore Avenue, shown Aug. 5, 2019, in Muncie, Indiana. (WISH Photo)

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) — Hundreds of Muncie residents fighting a proposed recycling facility hope actions taken by the city council will help their cause.

News 8 had the only TV camera inside a Monday meeting where hundreds of concerned people were turned away.

Residents are concerned with mercury contamination in the air as well as other toxic elements that Waelz Sustainable Products could bring.

The permit for the facility is currently under investigation with the state’s Department of Environmental Management.

The residents said they hope they’re not too late.

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The city council meeting got so chaotic Monday night that it was adjourned, and two council members left before the meeting was restarted to hear from a handful of people who had signed up to speak.

One of those speakers Monday was Erin Kinsella, who addressed the council while holding her 5-month-old. At times, her plea became emotional as she asked the council to rethink the proposal for a new west-side facility owned by Waelz that would recycle steel dust.

In the end, the council voted to send the ordinance it passed last month back to committee. The vote authorized issuing up to $15.6 million in economic development tax increment revenue bonds.

“We all want development,” said Councilwoman Nora Powell after the meeting. “Everybody wants development, but not at the expense of our constituents.”

“It’s a good step in the right direction, but it doesn’t change the fact that the ordinance stands,” said Kinsella.

The plant is slated to go on the site of the old Borg Warner plant on Kilgore Avenue. Just about all that remains now is the gate and gatehouse.

Bob Ball was also in attendance Monday night.

“I’m disappointed there wasn’t more due diligence given to really vet the kind of business that is coming,” he said.

He’s a lifelong resident of Muncie with 12 grandchildren who also live in the area.

If concerns about mercury and other toxic elements in the air aren’t eased and the business comes, he and others think moving could be the only option.

“I would have to highly consider it,” he said.

“My husband and I have said we can’t raise our children here,” said resident Emily Ziarko. “We can’t stay. I’m not willing to risk my children’s lives to stay in my hometown.”

But Muncie isn’t Kinsella’s hometown. She told the council how she and her husband specifically chose to live in Muncie to raise their family.

“If they (Waelz) come, I don’t know what we’ll do,” said Kinsella. “As much as I love the community, I’m devoted to my children.”

She’s also worried it’s too little too late, even after the council’s vote.

“I’m concerned it’s too late,” she said.

“It’s always a concerned it’s too late,” adds Ball.

Ziarko remains hopeful.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late,” she said.

The first step is to make sure the vote to send the proposal to government administration committee was valid. That’s because the council adjourned once before reconvening.

No date has been set for that committee meeting, but chair Denise Moore said it will happen in the next two weeks, before Waelz holds a community meeting Aug. 20.

No time or location has been set for either meeting.

Waelz Sustainable Products applied for a construction permit in April with Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management. It’s currently under investigation with the Office of Air Quality.

IDEM provided this information:

“Waelz Sustainable Products applied for a New Source Construction Title V permit on April 11, 2019. Issuance of this type of permit would give them approval, specific to federal and state air regulations, to construct and operate the proposed facility.

“IDEM’s Office of Air Quality (OAQ) is currently reviewing the application. As part of that review, OAQ will evaluate all regulatory requirements that would apply to the proposed source. Included in this evaluation and assessment would be a thorough review of all calculations, emission estimates, proposed limitations, and proposed emission controls for all regulated pollutants. In addition, OAQ will determine the appropriate classification of the source to determine what the applicable permitting thresholds are, and what the appropriate permit level would be based on this review. If IDEM determines that the source can meet all applicable state and federal regulatory requirements, then a draft permit will be prepared and published for public review and comment. OAQ will review all public comments received during that period and provide a response as part of the final determination for this permit request.”

Waelz declined to do an interview but provided this statement:

“We are committed to working with the community to share detailed information about building a state-of-the-art facility that not only meets regulatory standards protecting human health and the environment but exceeds them. The Muncie zinc recycling facility will not put at risk public health, our groundwater or air quality. We are proud of our track record of environmental stewardship, and should our permit application be approved we look forward to being able to create good paying jobs in Muncie and contributing to the community for many years to come.”