VIM neighbors seek class-action status in lawsuit

Posted on Sept. 14, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 14, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.

SOUTH BEND — The neighbors suing VIM Recycling in U.S. District Court are seeking class-action status in the case, which would potentially expand the number of plaintiffs from 150 to more than 1,700.

Moreover, they've named Soil Solutions, which finalized the purchase of the VIM facility on Old U.S. 33 west of Elkhart in July, as another defendant, in addition to VIM and Ken Will, who operated VIM.

The neighbors initially filed suit against VIM in U.S. District Court in South Bend on Oct. 28, 2009, complaining that dust and other emissions from the wood grinder posed a nuisance and health threat. A judge initially dismissed the case — filed by 150 neighbors, including one business — but a federal appellate court last May reversed that decision, allowing the suit to proceed.

In the wake of the May decision, the lawyer for the neighbors, Kim Ferraro, filed an amended lawsuit on Monday, in which the plaintiffs seek the class-action status.

The plaintiffs, as proposed, would expand from the 150 in the initial suit to those living in a broad swath north and west of VIM, specifically the estimated 1,748 residents living in the area bounded roughly by Old U.S. 33 to the south, the St. Joseph River to the north, Ash Road to the west and the VIM plant and Elliott Park to the east would become plaintiffs.

VIM and the other defendants have yet to respond to Monday's filing.

VIM had been a sore point among neighbors for years. They complained of dust, odors and other emissions from the plant, which grinds waste wood into mulch and animal bedding. The firm also drew the attention of environmental regulators, who have similarly sued the firm to force compliance with state environmental norms.

VIM and Soil Solutions reps have said the operation poses no health dangers. Soil Solutions officials, moreover, have touted a new dust-collection system in the rebuilt plant and said they plan to keep the size of wood piles stored outside to a minimum.

The VIM plant was heavily damaged in a 2007 explosion and fire, fueled by the huge waste wood piles on its grounds. A worker died in that incident and another was seriously burned.

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