Saint John community group ‘encouraged’ by conditions of AIM’s new approval to operate

A Saint John group that has been vocal with concerns about the port-side American Iron & Metal scrap facility is calling its new approval to operate “a step in the right direction.”

The facility has been deeply unpopular in Saint John due to the dozens of explosions caused by the facility’s metal shredder that culminated in a stop-work order last fall.

The community has also expressed concerns over noise and air quality, which factor into the conditions for the plant’s new approval to operate that was granted on Friday.

“Certainly we are encouraged with the direction the minister is taking with this latest certificate of approval,” said Gary MacDonald, a spokesperson with Livable Saint John.

“First of all, it’s only six months, so it allows for both sides to be working towards some of the regulations that were set down.”

Included in the approval to operate, signed by New Brunswick’s Minister of Environment and Local Government Jeff Carr, are tests of the chemical composition of fine particulate, along with a noise assessment study, audits to prevent the facility from receiving explosive material, and the implementation of action points from an unreleased water runoff study.

The acceptable decibel level for an explosion from the shredder has also been lowered from 109 to 104. If the level is exceeded, operations at the plant must cease until environment and Saint John Fire can inspect it and give the go-ahead to resume.

Of particular importance to MacDonald are the tests of the particulate coming from the facility.

“The minister appears to be listening to our concerns of what are we breathing and hopefully we’ll know more before the six-month time frame expires, and he seems to have taken into account some of the other concerns we’ve raised as residents all along,” he said.

“Certainly it’s a step in the right direction, but we’ll see what happens over the next six months.”

That six-month time limit for the permit is important to the group. MacDonald says it gives all interested parties a chance to assess what’s working and what can be done better.

“It does allow for more input from all sides, not just from the neighbours, the residents, but from all sides, whether it’s the environment department, [or] the company. It gives you more play to make those adjustments before setting anything in stone,” he said.

Part of the reasoning for the six-month time period is to allow time for testing to be done, at which point any adjustments can be made and baked into the next approval to operate. Carr says the testing is central to the approval and that they will begin to get results of studies already in the works through the summer.

“The extra testing that we’re waiting for on the air and water is going to be a big part of the next renewal in six months. This testing over the summer will really give us a good idea of the issues with the air quality and water,” he said.

“Once we have a good look at those and understand the fine particulate matter and what’s in it, we’ll really be able to dig in and convince the company to make some adjustments with their operation that mitigate a lot of those issues.”

The renewal of the permit came about 10 days after Saint John council sent a letter to Carr requesting that the shredder be moved and that some sort of mechanism be put in place for the city share its concerns. Currently, the city has no jurisdiction over the operation. The land is owned by the federal government and the province is responsible for granting approval to operate.

Carr said there are no formal mechanisms for city or community feedback in the permit, but added that AIM has taken it upon itself to create a community liaison group to help repair the relationship with Saint John.

But not everyone is pleased that the shredder is staying put. The president of the Saint John Real Estate Board, which joined council in asking that the shredder be moved, says the lower west side area is simply not suited for that type of industrial activity.

“[I]t is still our opinion that the operation of the metal shredder in its present location is an incompatible usage of land and would be better located in a more compatible area that meets zoning requirements such as an industrial park,” Sherry Sheldrick wrote in an email.

Sheldrick did add that the testing is an encouraging sign.

“It appears that the government is listening to the concerns and applying more restrictions to ensure the company is vigilant in controlling noise and preventing explosions as well as the environmental concerns,” she said.

“Perhaps, if the company is able to control these concerns in the next 6 months with minimal to no impact on residents/businesses, tourism and lifestyle in the neighboring areas then maybe there would be more acceptance moving forward.”

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