A Northern Metal Reycling employee reported company violations of its operating permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
In Ramsey County Court documents filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, William Hodgeman asserted that he had been told to falsify reports on readings taken from the company’s pollution control equipment if they exceed state-mandated limits that were set in 2012. When he refused, his supervisors took his handwritten numbers and revised them when they were entered on documents sent to MPCA.
Hodgeman began keeping separate records of his readings.
On Aug. 1, Hodgeman notified MPCA that the metal shredding building where he monitored the pressure drop readings on the plant’s filters was smokier than usual. MPCA Environmental Specialist Brent Rohne, who has been assigned to Northern Metal since 2008, went out to investigate Hodgeman’s allegation and an odor complaint on Aug. 7. Rohne found eight instances on Northern Metal’s twice-daily reports that did not match the numbers reported by Northern Metal.
That finding prompted MPCA to contact Ellison, and the attorney general and the agency sought a court order to immediately shut down the Northern Metal plant. The order would prevent Northern Metal from operating any permitted facility, or one which is subject to permitting, until it employs a neutral third-party consultant acceptable to MPCA to conduct twice-daily inspections of its pollution control equipment.
The order would strike the Court’s order of July 29, 2019, that allowed Northern Metal to continue to operate its metal shredder at its 2800 Pacific St., North Minneapolis facility (because its new facility in Becker was not ready for operation) and require the company to demonstrate complete compliance with the terms of March 2017 consent decree before seeking relief from MPCA or the Court to operate the metal shredder.
The March 3, 2017 settlement called for the metal recycling company on the west side of the Mississippi River to pay $2.5 million in costs and penalties, including a $1 million civil penalty; payment for three years of continued air monitoring near the facility; reimbursement to the state for past monitoring costs, court costs, and legal fees; and $600,000 to the city of Minneapolis for community heath projects to benefit nearby communities. It was also required to move its metal-shredding plant elsewhere.
Ellison and MPCA asked the court for an expedited hearing on the matter on Sept. 9. If Northern Metal violated its consent decree, it’s a felony-level offense, Assistant Attorney General Christina Brown told Judge John Guthmann.
Guthmann has presided over all MPCA’s wranglings with Northern Metal. He seemed skeptical when Northern Metal’s attorney, Joseph Maternowski, said MPCA may have violated its “duty of candor” by failing to disclose its interactions with Hodgeman while the company and MPCA were in the middle of negotiatons on a plant closing date, according to an article published in Minnesota Lawyer. Guthmann said nothing in the consent decree stopped MPCA from investigating wrongdoing. Guthmann also said MPCA had introduced evidence of violations of record-keeping, but not necessarily air quality violations.
The July 29 order allowing Northern Metal to continue to operate in North Minneapolis is set to expire at midnight Oct. 15. An evidentiary hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 23 at 9 a.m. in Ramsey County District Court. The judge could order an earlier closing depending on the outcome of the hearing.