Northern Metal gets extension for departure from Minneapolis location

Northern Metal's future site
Northern Metal is moving its scrap metal recycling operations from Minneapolis to this site near the Sherco plant.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Updated 5:37 p.m. | Posted 12:32 p.m.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says a controversial metal shredding operation in north Minneapolis won't be closing this week, as expected.

Northern Metal Recycling faced an Aug. 1 deadline to close the Minneapolis facility as part of a $2.5 million settlement and consent decree in 2017 that came after the state accused the company of violating its air quality permit and providing inaccurate information to agency officials.

In an update posted online Tuesday evening, MPCA commissioner Laura Bishop said that a Ramsey County Judge ruled that Northern Metal could continue to operate while a dispute with her agency is resolved.

The operation, located on the Mississippi River bank near Lowry Avenue, has been long opposed by neighbors, and was accused of air quality violations involving unlicensed release of lead, cobalt, chromium and nickel particulates.

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The MPCA said it received a request from Northern Metal in June to keep operating its metal shredder in north Minneapolis for an additional two months past the Aug. 1 deadline while it prepared to open a new facility in Sherburne County.

The request was related to logistics at its new site in Becker. Construction on the new site is nearly complete. But Becker's plan to extend sewer and water utilities to the new shredder is behind schedule.

A new city sewer line won’t be ready in time for the new facility to open this summer, which has meant the company won’t be able to begin operations there before Oct. 1.

In a statement following the ruling, Northern Metal’s chief operating officer, Scott Helberg, said the company is pleased with the court decision.

“We look forward to completing the construction of our new, state of the art recycling facility in Becker, which will employ 85 Minnesotans,” Helberg said. “As we continue to work closely with the city of Becker to obtain all necessary utilities, we are excited about the future."

MPCA denied Northern Metal’s extension request earlier this month, and the company appealed. A judge ruled that the shredder can stay in operation after the deadline while the dispute is resolved.

“I understand that this turn of events will be extremely frustrating to people who live near Northern Metal and who have worked hard over many years to make their voices heard about this issue,” Bishop wrote Tuesday. “I am frustrated, too. But I am also committed to maintaining an open and transparent line of communication with you as this process unfolds.”

Bishop didn't offer any prospect of a new deadline for the operation to shut down.

The delay has angered many residents in Minneapolis’ north and northeast neighborhoods, who have for years been pushing for Northern Metal and other noisy, polluting facilities located along the Mississippi River to move. Roxxanne O'Brien said her community has been disproportionately affected by health problems, like lead poisoning and asthma.

"The problem is, we've been overburdened with this issue for quite some time. So why should we have to wait?” she said. “There was a commitment made in the consent decree. Most of my community was frustrated that we even had to wait another three years. Period. And we're all just like, ‘Not another day.’ Not one more day."

Neighbors have organized a rally Thursday to be held on the Lowry Avenue Bridge to demand the company close its operations in their community.

In the meantime, Becker mayor Tracy Bertram said her city is eager for Northern Metal to begin its operations there. She said the sewer and water extension was delayed after Google announced it might build a data center in the city, too.

"We had to kind of take a step back and re-evaluate, because we don't want to put millions of dollars into something that we would have to change in 24 months,” she said. “I mean, that would just be not responsible of us."

Bertram said the city has awarded a bid for nearly $6 million for the sewer and water project, which should be completed by October.