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Newport files complaint against recycling company over explosions

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Posted at 5:27 PM, Jan 11, 2022

NEWPORT, Ky. — The city of Newport is taking legal action against a local scrap metal recycling company after years of complaints by neighboring residents.

The city filed a criminal complaint last week against River Metals Recycling, accusing the company of breaking the city’s noise ordinance four times in 2021. The violations are a Class B misdemeanor.

“The City of Newport has received numerous complaints regarding explosions that occur at River Metals Recycling. The City and River Metals had been working toward a mitigation of this situation in order to improve the quality of life for affected residents,” wrote Tom Fromme, Newport city manager.

Those explosions, or combustion events, can occur when an item being shredded, like a car, contains gasoline or other combustible materials.

Neighbors have told WCPO that the explosions shake their homes, rattle windows and startle them morning, afternoon and night.

“The city has been investigating this situation, which included the use of sound monitoring near the site and at or near properties that have been affected by these explosions. The investigation has found that explosions at the River Metals violated the city’s zoning ordinance within the last 30 days, resulting in charges being filed against them. The city has no additional comment at this time,” said Fromme.

River Metals Recycling did take action in attempt to mitigate the impact of these events, including the construction of a $300,000 sound barrier around its shredder in September.

Neal Coulardot, general manager at River Metals Recycling, called the complaint disappointing.

“We worked closely last year with the Mayor, Board of Commissioners and City Administration to reduce the noise impact of our operations and infrequent combustion events,” said Courladot. “In September 2021, we completed the construction and installation of a state-of-the-art sound barrier, in consultation with nationally recognized acoustic engineering experts, at a cost of over $300,000. The new sound barrier has been effective in significantly reducing noise from the infrequent combustion events at our Newport facility.”

He also noted that three of the four alleged violations occurred prior to the sound barrier being built. Those were in January, February and March of 2021. The most recent violation occurred on Dec. 15.

“The complaint does not describe how the alleged violation was determined. It also fails to acknowledge River Metals Recycling’s considerable sound reduction remedial measures or the cooperative relationship between the City and River Metals Recycling to achieve these improvements,” said Coulardot.

According to data obtained by WCPO in a records request, the city reported 54 explosions at River Metals Recycling between January 1, 2021 and January 4, 2022. Nineteen explosions were reported by neighbors and confirmed by the city after the sound barrier was built.

“The city has taken a very aggressive position of filing criminal charges in this regard. I think that’s a really forward step on the city’s behalf to maybe get this resolved,” said Commissioner Ken Rechtin, who has worked with residents to address the issue.

Rechtin believes even if the company is found guilty of the alleged violations, it’ll take more collaboration at the state level to find a complete solution.

“This thing isn’t over, it’s far from over and this is a long haul, like COVID. This is a long haul deal,” he said.

An arraignment for the case is set for January 21 at the Campbell County Courthouse.

Full statement from Neal Coulardot:

River Metals Recycling is disappointed by the complaint recently filed by the City of Newport alleging violations of its Zoning Code. We worked closely last year with the Mayor, Board of Commissioners and City Administration to reduce the noise impact of our operations and infrequent combustion events. In September 2021, we completed the construction and installation of a state-of-the-art sound barrier, in consultation with nationally recognized acoustic engineering experts, at a cost of over $300,000. The new sound barrier has been effective in significantly reducing noise from the infrequent combustion events at our Newport facility.

The current complaint includes alleged violations from January, February, and March of 2021, well before we installed the sound barrier. An additional alleged violation in December 2021 was also included, but the complaint does not describe how the alleged violation was determined. It also fails to acknowledge River Metals Recycling’s considerable sound reduction remedial measures or the cooperative relationship between the City and River Metals Recycling to achieve these improvements.

Recycling scrap metal into new steel products is the primary production method used to make steel in the United States. This production process has much lower greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional blast furnace steel production making the U.S. the cleanest place in the world to produce steel. River Metals Recycling, Kentucky’s largest metal recycler, is extremely proud to be a part of the sustainable steel supply chain. We will continue to adhere to the most stringent and leading-edge standards in safety, environmental stewardship and regulatory oversight and continue to be proactive in examining and refining our recycling practices.

Being a good corporate citizen and responsible neighbor has been essential to how River Metals Recycling has done business in Newport for decades. We continue to share the commitment of the Mayor and the rest of our city’s leadership, on behalf of its residents, to ensure that Newport remains a great place to live and work.

River Metals Recycling looks forward to continuing operations in our current location, in an industrial zone within the City of Newport, for years to come. We also look forward to continuing to work closely with the Board of Commissioners, the City Administration and the neighbors in our community