Wood grinder sues zoning panel

Martin's Animal Bedding southwest of Goshen is suiing Elkhart County, hoping to reverse a decision denying it permission to continue operation. The company grinds wood waste from area manufacturers.
Posted on Dec. 12, 2011 at 12:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Another Elkhart County wood recycling operation is at loggerheads with regulatory authorities and, once again, the courts have been called on to help resolve the matter.

This time, though, it’s not government officials taking legal action to enforce compliance with regulatory norms, as has been the case with VIM Recycling, another wood recycler that’s drawn the ire and attention of regulators. A company — Martin Animal Bedding — is suing, in this case over the Elkhart County Board of Zoning Appeals decision denying the firm’s request for renewal of its special use permit, which it needs to operate.

In a 3-2 vote at an Oct. 20 meeting, the BZA denied the request from company operator Kevin Martin to renew the permit, set to expire Nov. 20. Among other things, the BZA motion on the matter said Martin Animal Bedding has caused and will cause “substantial and permanent injury” to other neighboring properties due to fugitive dust, truck traffic and noise, according to meeting minutes.

Two neighbors filed written testimony complaining of dust and other problems with the Martin property, located southwest of Goshen at 21918 S.R. 119. Two more spoke out at the hearing against renewal of the permit while four spoke in favor.

Martin, for his part, filed suit last month against the BZA in Elkhart Superior Court 3. He asks that the Oct. 20 decision be reversed and that the BZA be compelled to renew the special use permit.

The BZA decision was “arbitrary, capricious and otherwise an abuse of discretion” and it’s based on issues that are of a “trifling” nature, Martin said in the suit. Moreover, “no substantial evidence” was presented at the October meeting that would suggest a significant change in the operation since November 2008, when the company received its original special use permit.

Lawyers for Elkhart County rejected Martin’s claims in their response on behalf of the BZA last week, though they didn’t get into details. Meanwhile, Superior Court 3 Judge George Biddlecome has granted Martin temporary authority to continue operating pending a court hearing on the matter in January.

Martin Animal Bedding — as was the case with VIM — grinds wood waste hauled in from area manufacturers into animal bedding for use by area farmers. However, the Martin property is actually zoned for agricultural use, not industrial wood grinding, thus the firm needs a special use permit to operate.

The VIM case

The turn of events stands in contrast to the VIM Recycling case.

Unlike Martin Animal Bedding, VIM received seeming leeway over the years to continue operating from regulators, even as neighbors complained of dust and other emissions from the operation. VIM, located on industrial land on U.S. 33 west of Elkhart, had been operated by Ken Will, but he sold the firm last July to Soil Solutions.

Only later did regulators start suing VIM, charging that it was out of compliance with state environmental norms. Neighbors have also filed suit against the company, and the matter dis winding its way through court.

VIM has maintained that the facility never posed a health threat and has largely rejected the charges against it. Soil Solutions reps, for their part, say a new dust-collecting system and other changes at the Old U.S. 33 facility will minimize dust and other emissions.


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