In response to explosions, environmental concerns, odors, noise levels, property damage, and quality of life issues raised by residents, the Town Council imposed restrictions on the recycling operations of Sims Metal Management during Monday’s meeting.
“This is an ongoing issue, for quite a long time,” said Council President Anthony Verardo when opening the session, later adding that nearby residents have been “extremely patient” with the company and the neighborhood problems that have occurred.
Notice of the hearing was recently sent to SMM New England Corporation, which does business as Sims, consisting of documents, which advised of the matters that brought the company before the council. Those documents included a number of incident reports from the Johnston Police Department, beginning in December 2016 though to November 2017, which were various in nature and included explosions and loud noise complaints against the company’s facility located at 14-15 Green Earth Avenue.
According to Town Solicitor William Conley, in February of 2017 an action plan for the facility was created between the town and the company which identified conduct and “action items” to be addressed from resident complaints. The plan also called for the suspension of work, such as the crushing of cars, after 4 p.m.
Councilman Richard DelFino III, who represents the district, called the issues caused by the Sims facility a “public nuisance” to nearby neighbors. Citing constituent complaints, DelFino said the operation is making it difficult for families to enjoy their homes.
“Loud explosions, loud releases that neighbors would describe as actually shaking the entire neighborhood, shaking houses,” said DelFino. “The noxious smell that falls over the neighborhood is certainly not one to be confused with the smell of the landfill.”
Several meetings have been previously held between the company, town building officials, Council President Verardo, DelFino, and neighbors. DelFino said that representatives from Sims have been responsive to questions and concerns, but that problems at the nearly $30 million recycling facility which opened in late 2013 persist.
“Quite frankly, it probably has gotten worse,” he said, adding that noise complaints against the facility come in after the 4 p.m. work threshold. “It’s my opinion, after speaking with the neighbors, that this problem has gotten worse.”
Johnston Building Official Ben Nascenzi told the council that he’s been to the SIMS facility “hundreds of times” and fielded complaints which he said stem back to 2013. He explained that the company had been responsive to issues he’s brought before them and that they have made adjustments he’s recommended, such as extending the sound wall along Route 295. He also provided information on sound studies that have been conducted.
Nascenzi acknowledged that loose expansion joints on 295, when hit by empty container trucks going to the landfill, may sometimes be mistaken as noise coming from the Sims facility. He explained that empty or partially filled tanks, such as propane tanks, are sometimes hidden in the cars to be recycled at the plant. Those tanks then explode during the salvage operation.
DelFino provided written testimony for the record from constituents unable to attend the hearing regarding their complaints. A half dozen residents spoke before the council during the hearing, presenting their concerns for the record.
“When there is an explosion or two or three in a row, not only is there a loud noise and a bang but literally my home shakes. I’m concerned about the foundation of my home,” said Valerie Jacavone, who lives on Macera Farm Road.
Joseph Lembo, also a resident of Macera Farm Road and a member of the Johnston Planning Board, recommended that the council revise the action plan with Sims.
“The grinding early in the morning when I leave, the grinding when I come home, and the explosions is not what we had the intention of when we granted all of the permits and variances for Sims,” said Lembo. “Even on some Saturday mornings, the auto fluff smell has been to the point where we can’t stay outside.”
SIMS representatives, along with their legal representation, addressed the council and acknowledged residents concerns.
“Our message is that we are listening,” said Christian Jenner, council for Sims.
He said that the company has implement the action plan agreed upon at the facility and that “significant progress has been made” but that more progress is needed and that the company wants to propose additional measures. Jenner said the “energy releases” at the facility are a concern for the company as well, as they may heavily damage equipment.
Jenner stated that outside suppliers have been informed of the prohibited materials requirements, such as the tanks, and that steps are taken to track and then penalize companies found to violate the policy, up to and including suspension of services. He reiterated that SIMS is allowed to continue its shredding operation after 4 p.m., but may not shred cars after that time.
SIMS acknowledged that explosions occur and suggested that the company set up a hotline number for residents to complain and have their concerns addressed.
“We don’t want explosions, we understand and we hear you loud and clear,” said John Sartori, general manager of Sims New England Operations.
At the conclusion of the hearing, and based on strong recommendations from Nascenzi, the council mandated that there be no more explosions from the facility; that no cars are shredded before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.; that air quality and acoustical engineers be hired at the company’s expense to monitor the situation and that the company must abide by the engineers findings, the noise barrier along Route 295 must be repaired, and that trucks utilizing the facility must remained covered. The company must also report back to the council during next month’s meeting.
“This is a quality of life issue, and quality of life issues are at the top of the list of our work,” said DelFino in an interview after the hearing. “We’ll take the necessary steps to ensure that our neighborhoods are safe and that people are allowed to enjoy their neighborhoods and property.”
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