GOSHEN - VIM Recycling isn't the only wood-grinding operation in Elkhart County.
And it's not the only wood grinder that's drawn the attention of regulators for bending and breaking the rules.
A grinder operated by Kevin Martin southwest of Goshen, Martin Animal Bedding, has been processing wood waste from area manufacturers since late 2007. It's also bent the Elkhart County Planning Department rules governing its operation, according to a department official, and was fined $3,400 last year by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for operating without a proper permit.
Still, Martin Animal Bedding hasn't generated a large outcry from neighbors, as has VIM, the target of legal action by IDEM and those living around the facility. One neighbor has decried Martin's grinder, but it doesn't seem to have generated the standing ire of others, let alone lawsuits.
And as Martin sees it, his operation - apparently the only other wood recycler in Elkhart County aside from VIM - is the type that's bound to generate complaints, despite the best efforts to minimize its impact.
"Whenever you grind wood, you create dust, you get truck traffic," he said. "Someone's going to complain."
The thing is, he provides a valuable, needed service, he said - reusing wood waste from area manufacturers that would otherwise fill up the landfill. "All these companies are begging and begging that I (grind) faster because they don't want to landfill," he said.
Smaller than VIM
Martin Animal Bedding, located at 21918 S.R. 119, started grinding wood in December 2007, following the fire the previous June that heavily damaged VIM and forced it to scale back its operations. Farmers still needed the animal bedding that VIM produced from wood waste and Martin helped pick up the slack.
Martin's is a smaller operation.
He processes as much as 150 tons to 200 tons of wood waste per day, Martin said, though permitting paperwork filed with IDEM put the daily total at about 60 tons. VIM, when fully operable, would handle up to 400 tons per day, according to an IDEM permit request filed by Soil Solutions, another companty that hopes to buy VIM.
At the same time, Martin Animal Bedding doesn't have the sort of wood stockpiles that VIM would maintain at its Old U.S. 33 facility west of Elkhart, bordered by homes to the north and west. VIM's massive heaps, partially removed under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, drew fire from regulators and neighbors, who say they're a health hazard.
The wood "comes and goes," said Martin, alluding to the turnaround at his operation, from wood waste to ground-up animal bedding. Though there might be occasional lapses, he doesn't maintain excessive stockpiles of wood waste "because that's what gets you in trouble."
In fact, he's had to send some wood waste to the landfill, unable to handle it quickly enough.
Martin Animal Bedding, located in a largely rural setting with a few homes around it, grinds from a three-sided, open-ended building, with no dust-collection system. It has a special use permit from the Elkhart County Board of Zoning Appeals that lets it grind wood at its S.R. 119 site and a solid waste processing facility permit from IDEM.
Dust, Overflowing piles
Ann Prough, zoning administrator and code enforcement manager for the Elkhart County Planning and Development Department, said one neighbor has complained about Martin's operation. Dust from grinding and truck traffic frequently wafts to the other property, the neighbor charges.
Indeed, dust flew from a pair of trucks earlier this month as they offloaded waste wood at Martin's operation and again as they drove out of the facility. IDEM said in a May 16 report that an April 12 inspection revealed the presence of dust there.
"Since the operations were occurring outdoors, the dust was not contained," said the IDEM report.
Prough herself said wood waste, at times, has overflowed from the designated storage area set out in Martin's special permit, a restriction meant to prevent out-of-control wood pile growth. It's not resulted in any formal citations, though.
"He's been way out of line and he gets back in line and he goes out of line," said Prough.
Similarly, IDEM charged in the May report that wood waste was being delivered during its visit "very frequently, too frequently for the operations to keep up with and keep all materials indoors."
IDEM fined the company $3,400 last year for grinding engineered wood - plywood and veneer, for instance - without a solid waste processing facility permit, as required. Martin has cited his unfamiliarity with IDEM rules, but his company secured the permit earlier this year.
In the May report, IDEM cited Martin because he didn't have a formalized plan to prevent pollution from stormwater runoff. He was given 60 days to develop a plan.
Preventing another VIM
More broadly, Martin Animal Bedding generated a flurry of e-mails last August between Elkhart County Planning Department Director Bob Watkins and Rick Roudebush, IDEM's health and safety manager. They were worried about Martin's operation, in part given the agencies' history with VIM.
Before IDEM granted Martin his solid waste processing facility permit, Roudebush told Watkins he was going to make it clear to Martin that there would be limitations on the amount of wood waste he can store.
Martin "WILL HAVE to make assurances he does not do what (VIM operator) Ken (Will) does and purposely bring in way more volume than he knows he can process in any given day, week or month," Roudebush wrote Watkins.