Neighbors fear noise and pollution from proposed South Tacoma metal recycling center

Neighbors fear noise and pollution from proposed South Tacoma metal recycling center

The location for the proposed recycling center near South 56th St. and Burlington Way in Tacoma July 22, 2019. The center would have a 30,000-square-foot warehouse and a 1,950-square-foot auto-processing facility. (Siandhara Bonnet, The News Tribune)

TACOMA, Wash. — Noise. Water pollution. Increased traffic.

Those are some of the worries South Tacoma residents have about a metal recycling center planned in their neighborhood.

About 20 of them attended a public meeting Thursday to review and comment on the possible environmental impacts of the business.

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“Why here? Why does the plant need to be in this particular location?” one resident asked at the meeting. She said having a community garden or an open-air mall would be better.

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The Sutter Metals Recycling Center would be built on 4.82 acres near South 56th Street and Burlington Way, near an already existing General Plastics facility. The vacant land is zoned as M-2, or heavy industrial.

According to the application, the center would include a 30,000-square-foot warehouse, which would separate ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and a 1,950-square-foot auto-processing structure.

William "Bill" Dunning of Huitt-Zollars has proposed the center on behalf of Sutter Metals, which is owned by Chad Sutter.

Sutter said in an email to The News Tribune that Sutter Metals acquires 75 percent of its vehicles from Pierce County.

“The opportunity to purchase land in the area was a fitting business decision to better serve its customers of this county as well as reduce our carbon footprint related to freight and travel,” he said.

The center would be located in a groundwater protection district, which means the site will require a permit from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. To obtain the permit, Sutter Metals must show the facility and stormwater infiltration systems, containers and/or tanks "are designed, constructed, maintained, and operated to minimize the possibility of any unanticipated release of hazardous substance, which could threaten human health of the environment."

During the meeting, Dunning and Darton Riley-Gibbons, an engineer with Huitt-Zollars, spoke about how the company plans to mitigate some of the concerns.

Riley-Gibbons said all stormwater will be subjected to "enhanced treatment." There will be three basins and oil-water separation equipment on site to treat the water. There also will be bio-retention facilities, which are approved by the Washington State Department of Ecology to provide enhanced stormwater treatment.

Some people were not satisfied with the treatment plans. During the public comment section, one resident asked if the applicants, or anyone else, would be able to or want to drink the water that exits the equipment.

Courtney Love, who is running for Tacoma City Council, Position 7, and longtime South Tacoma resident Heidi Stephens said they have been working on changing the zoning for area for some time.

Stephens, who has lived in Tacoma for 18-19 years, asked how Dunning and the company would feel if a recycling center was built in their backyard.

She, along with other residents, said she’s worried about air quality and traffic change. She said she’s particularly worried about the diesel exhaust and how long trucks may idle.

“Based on their own presentation, there is no amount of mitigation good enough to promise the long-term safety of that kind of facility above our groundwater supply,” Stephens said. “It just cannot be located there.”

Residents also expressed concerns over the noise generated from the facility.

Dunning said he measured noise levels from a recycling center in Lacey owned by Sutter Metals to estimate the noise from the Tacoma center. The loudest decibel level he measured was 78.8 decibels from 70 feet away, which is almost equivalent to loud traffic or a noisy restaurant.

A resident who lives near South 56th Street and Puget Sound said the neighborhood has changed a lot since the area was zoned for heavy industrial work and is no longer conducive to the zoning.

Sutter said in an email to The News Tribune that all required studies were “performed at the direction and satisfaction of the City. At this point, the data collected pursuant to the noise and traffic study is complete and satisfactory.”

Sutter also said there are misconceptions about the facility.

The center will not be a metal-shredding facility but a recycling facility, he said.

He said the center “creates a sustainable approach for a community’s recycling needs and places this environmental strategy in arms reach, allowing the public to participate in recycling everyday, household items.”

Stephens said even if the center gets approved by the city and building begins, the company will constantly be watched.

“I hope they realize what kind of resistance they’re going to be facing,” Stephens said.

The city will make a decision regarding a required environmental checklist on or by Aug. 2. Once the decision is made, a 14-week official public comment period will open. Comments should be submitted to Principal Planner John Harrington via email at