There was an interesting discussion at the last Radford City Council meeting. It related to a Special Use Permit application submitted by Radford Trading, LLC, the current owner of the old foundry.
Radford Trading would like to use the property for “recycling, resource recovery and reclamation.” The permit request cover letter states that “the facility will primarily be utilized for processing of electronics and other related materials, including without limitation a copper wire chopping line facility and ferrous and nonferrous bulk scrap recycling.”
At the council meeting, Mayor David Horton suggested having Radford Trading make a presentation to the council at Monday’s meeting before going to a public hearing at the following meeting. He also mentioned that he wished that the council had had the opportunity to get input from the West End community about aspirations for the area. The council agreed to have that presentation.
This column focuses on several questions that might be asked about the proposal.
First, here are a few definitions. One website described a “copper wire chopping line” this way: “The material [wire] is loaded into a pre-processor and chopped into smaller pieces to be moved to the first step of the granulator. The smaller pieces are then checked for foreign material by hand before it goes into the chopping phase. The material is then moved through a series of steps using air, magnets, gravity and movement to separate out insulation and other small foreign material.”
Another site explains that “electronic waste or e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Informal processing of e-waste…can lead to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution. Electronic scrap components…contain potentially harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to [the] health of workers and communities…and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaking of materials such as heavy metals…”
This work will be done primarily in “existing buildings and structures” according to the letter, but will there be outside venting and possible ground or water contamination? Remember, this facility will be yards from the New River, and residential blocks are situated across the street.
Thomas Bishop, one of the owners of Radford Trading, had a fire at his scrap metal center in Chilhowie several years ago. Here is a description from the Bristol Herald Courier at the time: “The fire was in a pile [of scrapped vehicles and metal] about 75 feet high and 25 feet wide…in the middle of the 5-acre lot.”
“Our concern now is runoff,” [Fire Chief] Haynes said about material possibly entering the Middle Fork of the Holston River…We don’t have any issues with the water or air, but we’re going to be here a while, and we want to make sure the river isn’t contaminated.”
This kind of event is something to consider.
The request also mentions the use of “accessory uses such as parking, materials storage, and such other uses as are customary to recycling, resource recovery and reclamation.” What will this storage look like on Main Street?
The permit letter states that there will be “ferrous and nonferrous bulk scrap recycling.” Will piles of wiring, steel, aluminum, cast iron and other metals be piled in those material storage areas? Could, in the future, cars or other bulk materials be stacked 75 feet high for recycling as in Chilhowie?
The letter mentions that “future stormwater runoff will be detained and mitigated in conformance with federal, state and local laws and regulations.” How, precisely, will this work? How will officials monitor the air, ground and water in the area?
How many employees will work at the site—four? 24? How will this operation impact the site’s land value and taxes received from the company? How will this shape nearby residential home values? What will be the economic development impact for the West End and the city?
Is this the kind of “gateway” the city wants people to see coming off I-81 and driving into Radford? Piles of metal and materials on Main Street would undoubtedly create a memorable image.
Radford is also looking for a new city recycling center and might consider renting space at this site, especially if the Special Use Permit is approved. Again, would a trash disposal/recycling center on Main Street present an inviting first impression for the city?
Of course, kudos go to the city council for getting more information out through the presentation before the public hearing. It is vital that people in the city, especially people in the West End who will be impacted the most, have the opportunity to know the answers to these questions (and others that citizens will undoubtedly have).
The Special Use Permit is written to address city zoning guidelines and use for the site but is it best for the city? Will it add to that gateway impression? Will it add numerous new jobs? Is it in the best interests of the residents as far as economic development, the environment and quality of life issues are concerned?
We will discover answers to these and other questions in the coming weeks, hopefully beginning at Monday night’s city council meeting.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.