A federal judge has granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed against the Soil Solutions wood recycling facility by a group of neighbors living around the operation on Elkhart’s west side.
The decision last week from U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon of South Bend means the number of plaintiffs in the case may now include around 1,700 people living in broad swath around Soil Solutions, up from the 150 neighbors who filed the original suit.
Now, those living near Soil Solutions “who might not otherwise be able to afford to legally protect their rights to clean air and a safe home can take action to protect their homes and families,” attorney Kim Ferraro said in a statement late Monday afternoon. She’s a staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council and filed the original suit on behalf of the neighbors in 2009.
The neighbors filed the suit, complaining that dust and other emissions from the Soil Solutions plant pose a nuisance and a health threat. They also filed suit against VIM Recycling, which operated the facility before selling it to Soil Solutions in July 2011.
The original 150 plaintiffs asked for class-action status back in September 2011. They wanted to expand the suit to potentially cover those living in a broad area north and west of the facility, some 1,748 people in the area bounded by Old U.S. 33 to the south, the St. Joseph River to the north, Ash Road to the west and the wood recycling operation and Elliott Park to the east.
VIM made headlines in 2007 after a massive fire among the wood piles outside the facility, an incident that left a worker dead. Neighbors had long complained of the operation, leading to their suit and several other actions by environmental authorities in recent years.
The wood recycling operation, located on Old U.S. 33 west of Elkhart in Baugo Township, takes wood scraps from area manufacturers and grinds the material into animal bedding and mulch.