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County officials give nod to wood grinding proposal

Kevin Martin's request to start a new wood grinding operation off C.R. 17 southwest of Goshen comes up for consideration by the Elkhart County Plan Commission.
Posted on Feb. 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 10, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.

GOSHEN — Kevin Martin may not be able to operate his wood grinding operation southwest of Goshen off S.R. 119.

The Elkhart County Board of Zoning appeals rejected his request last October for a permit renewal to operate at the site.

But the Elkhart County Plan Commission thinks an agricultural site about a mile and a half to the south off C.R. 17 between C.R. 38 and C.R. 40 is an OK spot for the business, Martin Animal Bedding. Amid the lingering debate here about where best to locate wood grinding operations, the body on Thursday voted 6-0 to grant a favorable recommendation to Martin’s proposal to build at the C.R. 17 site, rebuffing county staffers who weighed in against the plan.

“I think he has found a good site and I think it is an agricultural use,” said Mike Yoder, a member of the plan commission and a county commissioner. Now Martin’s plan will go before county commissioners for final consideration, probably on March 19.

Even critics of the old VIM Recycling wood grinding facility west of Elkhart, now owned and operated by Soil Solutions, sounded off in favor of Martin’s plans at Thursday’s public hearing. One of the leaders of the VIM/Soil Solutions critics, Wayne Stutsman, said Martin has been following the pertinent rules and ought to be given a chance to operate at the C.R. 17 site.

VIM has been the target of repeated regulatory attention and numerous lawsuits stemming from dust and other emissions at the facility. The controversy has spurred debate in the county about where best to locate wood grinding operations, which take waste wood from area manufacturers, processing it into animal bedding and, in some cases, mulch.

‘PART OF THE SOLUTION’

In arguing for the C.R. 17 proposal Thursday, Brads-Ko Engineering and Surveying General Manager Barry Pharis, who helped Martin formulate the plan, said the new site resolves some of the problems of the location at 21918 S.R. 119. Dust emissions, among other things, factored in the 3-2 BZA decision last October turning back Martin’s request for a new permit for the S.R. 119 site.

The structure housing the wood grinding unit at the C.R. 17 site would sit further from the road, minimizing the potential of dust wafting to neighbors. The building would be big enough to allow entry of trucks hauling in wood waste, preventing unsightly and dusty outdoor wood heaps. Moreover, it sits in a geographic depression, which ought to minimize the spread of fugitive dust.

“Kevin Martin is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said Pharis.

THE CRITICS’ TAKE

Thursay’s 6-0 vote notwithstanding, Martin’s proposal wasn’t without critics.

Elkhart County Planning and Development Department staffers had argued that Martin’s operation amounts to an industrial use and wouldn’t fit in the C.R. 17 plot, zoned for agricultural use.

Kathy Coffman, who lives north of the C.R. 17 location near the C.R. 38-C.R. 17 crossing, worries about dust and noise. As is, noise from the S.R. 119 site wafts to her home.

She has no problem with Martin operating a business, “but I do not want that right behind our house,” she said during the public hearing portion of Thursday’s meeting

David Jameson, who lives near the S.R. 119 operation, said the Martin family may work hard, “but there’s a proper place for this to be done.”

Dust sometimes wafts to his property and covers the lift trucks he sells. Once, he confronted Martin about the problem, Jameson charged, and Martin threw a $20 bill at Jameson’s feet “and said, ‘Here, wash your vehicle.’”

For his part, Martin noted there fewer people living around the C.R. 17 location, tucked amid farmland.

“There aren’t close neighbors,” he said after Thursday’s vote. “It’s just a better location than where I’m at.”

Technically, Martin’s request Thursday was for a rezone of the agricultural plot at C.R. 17, allowing for relocation of his wood grinding operation from S.R. 119.

The man sued the BZA in Elkhart Superior Court after its October vote, hoping to get the decision reversed. But he said he took that step only to buy some time, allowing him to keep operating at S.R. 119 pending formulation of the C.R. 17 plans.


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