An overflow crowd of hundreds of Muncie residents showed up to a city council meeting Monday night to address an issue that wasn’t on the agenda – protesting against a facility that will recycle steel dust into zinc oxide. Residents say it will pollute the city and cause a mass exodus.
A capacity crowd of 215 packed the City Hall Auditorium, with dozens standing the auditorium’s lobby, and as many as 400 to 500 Muncie-area residents gathered outside who could not get in because there was no room. Most were there to voice concerns about a proposed Waelz Sustainable Products mini-steel-mill dust recycling facility on the old Warner Gear site on Kilgore Avenue.
During the end-of-agenda public comment period, area resident and Ball State associate professor of chemistry Jim Rybarczyk spoke against the proposed plant because of concerns about lead, mercury, and particulate air pollution the plant might cause.
Democratic council President Doug Marshall stopped him for exceeding a three-minute time limit for comments, repeating “Thank you, sir, for your comments,” as the room broke out in a chant of “Let him talk!” Marshall then adjourned the meeting, and left the auditorium.
Councilwoman Linda Gregory also walked out of the meeting after Marshall.
But with seven council members still present, council Vice President Nora Powell reconvened the meeting. More public comments were heard against the plant.
Perhaps the most potent comment about the facility was voiced by someone who was not in attendance – the son of Republican Councilman Brad Polk. He texted his dad during the meeting. That text message likely reflected the feelings of many who were there, and prompted his dad to take action.
“During this meeting, I had a text from my 22-year-old son that just graduated from Ball State in May,” said Polk, “and is now employed by Ontario Systems here in Muncie and is wanting to stay here. But he says to me, ‘Do whatever you can to pull the plug on this new facility. If I am going to start a career and a family in Muncie, I can’t have that health risk.'”
Polk motioned that the council reconsider the project by referring it to a committee for further study. Six of the seven members voted for his motion. There was one abstention entered by Democrat Denise Moore. But no one is sure if that vote is legal, considering the meeting had been adjourned before.
Initial details about the project were heard by the council on June 3. A public input session was held on July 1. At its July meeting, the city council voted unanimously to approve tax incentives for the facility. Many in attendance said they did not know about the July 1 session.
The Waelz project still needs an Air Quality Permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The company says it supports public hearings as part of its application. It also wants to meet residents face-to-face in a public meeting scheduled for late August.