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The Old U.S. 33 wood-grinding facility has a long and checkered past

The wood-grinding facility at Old U.S. 33 west of Elkhart has received plenty of attention over the years from regulators, neighbors and others.

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 6:05 p.m.

The wood-recycling operation at 29861 Old U.S. 33 west of Elkhart has long been the focus of attention from neighbors.

They've complained about dust and odor coming from the facility, first as VIM Recycling then, after the operation was sold to new owners, as Soil Solutions. A tentative settlement in a federal lawsuit first filed by the neighbors in 2009 calls for a halt in wood-grinding operations in five years.

Here's a timeline of events leading to the tentative court accord, focus of a hearing last week in U.S. District Court in Hammond:

  • Around September 2000: VIM Recycling starts wood-grinding operation at the Baugo Township facility on Old U.S. 33 west of Elkhart. The move comes in response to an accord with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, calling for a halt to wood grinding at its Goshen site due to fugitive dust violations.
  • May 3, 2004: VIM is fined $1,875 for a fugitive dust emission at Old U.S. 33. It's VIM's only fugitive dust violation there.
  • Jan. 18, 2007: VIM must remove an estimated 18,705 tons of wood waste on its grounds by Sept. 30, 2008, per an accord with IDEM.
  • June 14-17, 2007: Forty-three fire departments help fight a fire fueled by woodpiles at VIM. Worker Jose Garcia-Olvera is killed, another seriously injured. It's at least the fifth reported fire there dating to 2003.
  • Sept. 17, 2007: VIM neighbors, angry over the June 2007 fire, seek action against VIM at a meeting of Elkhart County commissioners. More meetings follow as they redouble their efforts against VIM due to dust and health concerns.
  • Feb. 5, 2008: The Indiana fire marshal sues VIM due to alleged fire code violations. The sides have largely resolved the issues.
  • Oct. 3, 2008: IDEM sues VIM after it fails to remove wood waste identified in the Jan. 18, 2007, accord. In late 2013 the suit is dismissed.
  • May 6, 2009: VIM worker Jose Luis Guerrero Chavarria is killed, apparently after being hit by falling scrap wood and inadvertently picked up by an excavator.
  • June 29, 2009: VIM must get rid of much of the deteriorating and smoldering wood waste identified in the Jan. 18, 2007, IDEM accord by Dec. 31, 2009, per a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accord. The company meets the deadline.
  • Oct. 27, 2009: VIM neighbors file suit against the company stemming from complaints about dust and odor emissions in U.S. District Court, South Bend. They cite alleged health problems caused by dust and other emissions and seek its closure. Soil Solutions is later added as a defendant.
  • Dec. 21, 2009: Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and IDEM sue VIM in Elkhart Superior Court 1, calling on it to stop taking certain types of wood waste and to clean its grounds. Later, the sides reach an accord calling on VIM to remove a disputed pile of wood waste. VIM doesn't comply and Judge Evan Robert in 2012 fines the firm, represented by Ken Will, $150,000.
  • July 25, 2011: The accord is finalized selling VIM to Soil Solutions. The deal, documents later show, is worth $7.47 million, factoring lease payments over 15 years.
  • August 2012: Baugo Township firefighters respond to two minor fires at Soil Solutions.
  • Jan. 29, 2013: U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon grants class-action status to the federal suit against Soil Solutions. The pool of plaintiffs expands from 150 to around 1,700.
  • March 7, 2014: A hearing is held in U.S. District Court on a proposed settlement between Soil Solutions and neighbors in the neighbors lawsuit. The plan calls on Soil Solutions to clean the Old U.S. 33 site and halt wood grinding in five years.
  • June 15, 2014: Planned hearing before Judge Simon in Hammond, when he's to formally consider the tentative settlement.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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