Proposed settlement in wood grinder case contains no admission of wrongdoing, VIM not covered

The Soil Solutions settlement also doesn't affect VIM Recycling, the original operators of the site.

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

The varied documents related to the proposal partially settling the federal lawsuit neighbors filed against Soil Solutions, the wood-grinding operation west of Elkhart, total 110 pages.

In short, the tentative settlement between around 1,700 neighbors and the company calls on Soil Solutions to halt wood grinding operations at the 29861 Old U.S. 33 site within five years and, in the same time frame, clean the land of accumulated wood and wood waste. That's good news for neighbors, who have long complained that wood dust and odor from the facility constitute a nuisance and a health threat.

The settlement is subject to final consideration by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon at a June 16 hearing in Hammond. Meanwhile, here are some highlights from the court papers:

  • No wrongdoing: Soil Solutions reps don't admit to any wrongdoing, per the agreement. Company officials "have denied and continue to deny all charges of wrongdoing or liability" stemming from the neighbors' claims.
  • Ken Will, VIM: The tentative settlement doesn't apply to Ken Will, operator of VIM Recycling, or VIM, which have, perhaps, inspired more wrath from neighbors than Soil Solutions. Ken Will launched VIM at the Old U.S. 33 location in 2000 and built the wood-grinding operation, selling to Soil Solutions in July 2011. The suit as it pertains to Will and VIM will continue.
  • Reporting the waste removal: Soil Solutions will have to provide reports every 30 days outlining the quantity of material received and processed and whether material was sold and removed. The company will also have to set a timeline for removal of the massive piles of accumulated waste already on the site over the proposed five-year wind down period, documenting the removal every three months.
  • Lots of wood waste: The Old U.S. 33 site contains an estimated 279,427.1 cubic yards of waste. The biggest single chunk, 122,838.6 cubic yards, is "C" wood, wood brought in over time, including material placed in the giant berms surrounding the business, which will have to be removed. Soil Solutions, and VIM before it, takes wood waste from area manufacturers and grinds it into animal bedding and mulch.
  • Community liaison: Soil Solutions will designate a community liaison to "respond to and address community concerns." Responses to neighbors' queries will have to be made within two business days.
  • Prohibited activities: Wafting dust caused by wood grinding has been one of the neighbors' main complaints about Soil Solutions and VIM. As such, Soil Solutions will have to craft a covenant prohibiting activity like wood grinding at the Old U.S. 33 site when the five-year window period ends. Specifically the covenant, to be filed with the Elkhart County Recorder's Office, has to be worded to prohibit current or future owners from engaging in "solid waste management, solid waste treatment, solid waste processing, resource recovery or solid waste disposal."
  • More prohibitions: Soil Solutions won't be able to sell the land to operations that engage in manufacturing, animal processing, metal foundry work, asphalt manufacturing and more.
  • Objecting: Judge Simon granted class-action status to the lawsuit last year, which means a broad swath of neighbors around Soil Solutions are identified as plaintiffs, around 1,700. Still, individuals in the class may formally object to the terms, ahead of the planned June 16 hearing.

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

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