New Brunswick

Add city oversight to noisy metal recycler's provincial permit, councillor says

Saint John Coun. Donna Reardon would like to see metal recycler American Iron and Metal's next provincial operating permit contain conditions requiring co-operation with the municipality.

Scrap recycler on Saint John port land isn't accountable to municipality

American Iron and Metal's Saint John recycling facility is located on leased port land, outside municipal jurisdiction. (Julia Wright, CBC)

West Saint side resident Barry Constantine marvels at how much life has changed since American Iron and Metal set up operations on nearby Port Saint John property.

On many days, his windows are closed when they would normally be open. 

Noise and a pervasive dust put an end to that long ago.

I do think the city needs to be a huge part of the dialogue because we've got all the risks.- Donna Reardon, Saint John councillor

"They could have figured this out a long time ago and they just didn't," Constantine says.

"They didn't sit down and think that you're right in the middle of the city and making that much noise."

He doesn't want to see the jobs leave the city but says there are far more suitable locations for the metal recycling operation.

Not in city's jurisdiction

"Once you get used to something, you don't even know it's there. Trains go by your house and they're loud. After a while it ain't so loud anymore. But this is a little on the ridiculous side. It is a little crazy."

But AIM, which sits on leased Port Saint John land, is outside the jurisdiction of city authorities. With companies on any other land, the city would have more authority.

AIM need only satisfy the terms of its port lease and its provincial "approval to operate."

Saint John Coun. Donna Reardon says she believes American Iron and Metal's provincial approval to operate should allow some municipal oversight. (CBC)

But that 15-page approval document makes few references to the municipality beyond a requirement for a joint emergency response plan.

Ward 3 Coun. Donna Reardon would like to see that change. She says AIM's next approval to operate should contain conditions requiring co-operation with the municipality.

"I do think the city needs to be a huge part of the dialogue because we've got all the risks," Reardon said. 
"I think whenever the province is doing anything they should always be linking with the city because the city's their partner."

The New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government is responsible for issuing approvals to operate to AIM and other companies. 

Similar experience in Calgary

AIM's two-year permit expires June 1, 2019. It's not clear whether it would be legal to add any conditions to the provincial permit.

A communications person with the Environment Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the past year, the City of Calgary managed to calm a contentious relationship with its sprawling scrap metal recycler.

Calgary Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says there had been a long history of complaints from neighbours of Navajo Metals.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra of Calgary says that by documenting problems at a local recylcer, the city was able to bring about changes in how the company operated. (Twitter)

But there was little progress until the city began to document explosions and noise complaints.

"What they were saying was happening and what was actually happening didn't quite jive," said Carra. "Everything in this regard really comes down to the strength of evidence, and we were able to collect enough evidence to really lean on them."

Carra says sound meters and cameras were put in place near Navajo's operation. 

"We were able to amass enough evidence and there was enough constant pressure from the surrounding businesses and residents that we were able to document some things. And that really gave us the leverage."

Licence at risk

In Alberta business licences are issued by the municipality.

Carra says with that licence on the line, the company made changes to its operating procedures leading to a decline in complaints.

No such solution is currently available to the City of Saint John.

Navajo Metals referred CBC on Tuesday to the company's head office, Evraz Navajo North America in Chicago, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Residents shaken

Explosions at metal-recycling plants are often caused by propane or other pressurized gas containers that make their way into the metal-shredding chamber.

A handful of larger blasts in Saint John have startled residents around the city waterfront and led to complaints of rattling windows and china. 

Over the past 17 months, there have been 39 explosions — small and large  — at American Iron and Metals' Saint John operation. Three were in October, and two happened the same day, Oct. 11.

In a statement to CBC News that day, AIM's site manager, Kevin Hughes, said the on-site metal shredder is designed to withstand "bursts of pressure" and they are not a threat to the public. 

AIM did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.