NEW ULM — Clouds have hung over South Valley Street and German Street for almost a month, affecting the mood of many residents.
This is not a metaphorical cloud, but a literal cloud of yellow smoke emanating from New Ulm Steel & Recycling (NUSR).
Depending on the direction of the wind, clouds can hover over the recycling facility, or wind down Valley Street and German residential areas.
Almost every day, at some point, residents of the Valley and German Street see and smell clouds.
German Street’s Frank Rod Miller first alerted the Journal to the issue on October 24. He obtained pictures and videos of the smoke.
Other neighbors recorded similar incidents. Last month, Valley Street resident Kevin Watson documented an incident where smoke from the NUSR traveled across the road and into his front yard.
The smoke cloud isn’t the first time NUSR has faced complaints from neighbors. The recycling facility has been receiving complaints for the past eight years. However, the original complaint was about noise. Several neighbors reported explosions from the facility.
In 2014, the recycling center was approved to build a fence around the facility to reduce noise transmission. The number of complaints has decreased.
On September 1, 2021, NUSR acquired new owners, Neil Byce and Grant Vanwyngeeren, and the noise complaints returned.
The journal has contacted NUSR in response to recent complaints. His owner, Neil Byce, replied via email:
“New Ulm Steel and the recycled materials industry are subject to air quality regulation at both state and federal levels. New Ulm Recycling takes these issues and community concerns seriously. Our current project is to recycle used windmills to make products that our community uses every day such as appliances, cars, hospitals, roads, bridges and many other things we care about. to make it into a product.”
The City of New Ulm conducted a noise survey of the property on November 8 and 9 and confirmed that NUSR exceeded noise pollution standards. Statutory Restrictions on Place of Residence.
The first criterion is whether the site produces noise greater than 65 decibels 10% of the time.
The second criterion is whether the site produces noise in excess of 65 decibels for 50% or more of the hour. NUSR exceeded both noise thresholds.
In April 2022, NUSR announced a mitigation plan to reduce noise pollution, applying rubber mats to feeders and raising the height of perimeter fences. The improvements were to be implemented in August.
None of the neighbors Journal spoke to could confirm whether the noise abatement efforts had made a difference.
Miller confirmed that vibrations from the recycling facility are still frequent. Vibration and smoke caused problems with his Airbnb on German Street, which is half a block away from NUSR. Guests have submitted complaints regarding vibration, noise, smoke, and odors from the property.
“We’re getting to a point where we have to warn and apologize to our guests during the booking process.” Miller said. “We lost business as a result.”
Miller said he has reached out to owners and city leaders, but nothing has changed and the problem is getting worse.
Watson also thought the problem had gotten worse. He has lived on Valley Street since his 2015 and said he has never had a problem this serious. He admitted that his previous owners had noise problems, but they were willing to work with their neighbors.The new management didn’t seem to care and now the smoke is annoys the neighborhood.
Watson said the extent of the smoke is wind dependent but appears to be getting worse. He said the smoke clouds on Halloween were particularly bad. The conditions made it difficult to enjoy a holiday night. The day after Halloween, he cleaned his windows and found a layer of orange soot.
Watson isn’t the only Valley Street resident to report soot falling on her neighborhood. Other Valley Street residents who wished to remain anonymous have reported similar experiences.
A resident who has lived in the area since the early 1990s said living next door to the NUSR was not a problem until recently. With the previous owner, the shredder only ran a few days a week, but since the new owner took over, the frequency of the noise has increased, but the smoke is even more annoying.
Residents cannot leave windows open. Even with the windows closed, the smell still enters the house.
Smoke and smell may not be limited to Valleys and German Streets. Some residents recognize a peculiar burning smell from he NUSR in other parts of the community.
Watson said he could sometimes smell NUSR when visiting his parents near the Redstone Quarry.
Watson believes that many people all over New Ulm have smelled the smoke from the recycling facility and are unaware of it. He thought it was a campfire or something.
A recent air quality complaint was sent to New Ulm. City officials are aware of these complaints. Several neighbors have reported air quality concerns to city representatives.
New Ulm city planner John Nicely said the complaint has been referred to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The MPCA says it has launched an active investigation into NUSR. No official statement has been made as the investigation is ongoing. NUSR has an Option D registration permit that regulates the types of substances that can be discharged.
It’s unclear when the MPCA will complete its investigation, or if anything will happen, but the neighborhood hopes for a solution.
Part of the problem is related to zoning. NUSR operates in an industrial area adjacent to a residential area. Some residents wonder whether industrial activity of this magnitude should operate at the site.