From left are brothers and Newco Metals co-owners Mike and Chris Rasmussen. Newco is asking the Ingalls Board of Zoning Appeals for permission to melt down non-ferrous metals. Staff photo by Don Knight | The Herald Bulletin
From left are brothers and Newco Metals co-owners Mike and Chris Rasmussen. Newco is asking the Ingalls Board of Zoning Appeals for permission to melt down non-ferrous metals. Staff photo by Don Knight | The Herald Bulletin
INGALLS – In 2012, Adam Truman moved to Pendleton with the idea that he and his wife would raise their children there, helping them learn to ride bicycles on its tree-lined streets and sending them to its acclaimed schools.

But recently, something he believes is more sinister has clouded his idyllic perception of the town and led him to fear for his family and their safety.

That something is a request by Newco Metals Inc. to install a remelter at its property, 7268 S. Indiana 13, which Truman and others believe would affect the residents’ health, property values and the environment in Pendleton and other nearby communities. The property has a Pendleton address but is located within the town limits of Ingalls because of an annexation a few years ago.

“This is the first time since moving here that I’m concerned about my family living in Pendleton,” he told the Pendleton Town Council earlier this month.

But brothers Chris and Mike Rasmussen, co-owners of the recycling company started 33 years ago by their late stepfather, insist all these fears are unfounded.

“Nobody’s realizing we’re a recycling company,” Chris Rasmussen said. “It’s confusing.”

“We’re trying to save the world,” Mike Rasmussen chimed in. “They’re arguing against us making an apple when we’re making a cucumber. Everything is based around misinformation.”

The Rasmussens said Newco’s $15 million to $17 million project, dubbed Element 13, will generate tax revenue for Ingalls and provide 26 new jobs.

“The opposition has been really misinformed. We’ve done years of research,” Chris Rasmussen said. “The last thing we want to do is harm anyone. We’re here 50, 60 hours a week ourselves.”

ELEMENT 13

About five years ago, Newco officials decided it was time to expand their operation and reduce costs for their clients by adding an aluminum remelter to their recycling operation. They decided to add a remelter to produce aluminum billet, the raw material used by manufacturers of a variety of items, such as commercial door frames, bleachers and handrails.

“As these businesses have been getting tight, the cast houses have been raising their prices,” Chris Rasmussen said.

The operation, if approved by the Ingalls Board of Zoning Appeals, would be housed in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse-style building.

Chris Rasmussen said the money saved by going in-house will be used to improve the aesthetics of the overall campus near Exit 214.

“When you see scrap yards around the country, we look pretty darned good,” he said. “With this, we can look even better.”

It’s also an environment-friendly solution that will reduce pollution because of fewer transports of materials between facilities, Chris Rasmussen said.

Though a tax abatement was approved by the Town of Ingalls in 2015, Newco just now is reaching the point where Element 13 can move forward, the Rasmussens said.

Chris Rasmussen said he’s had offers to start Element 13 in other communities, but the brothers deliberately decided to house it on their main campus.

“We want to do it here because of the community,” he said.

But about three weeks ago, opposition to Element 13 started to swell on social media. At that point, Newco officials issued an open letter explaining the project.

The Rasmussens said they also invited opponents to Newco for a tour of the campus and to explain their new project. However, very few people took them up on the offer, they said.

Some opponents, including James Rybarczyk, an associate professor of chemistry at Ball State University, insist Newco is trying to add a second smelter, based primarily on the classification language on an addendum to the operating permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Air Quality. But the Rasmussens point to the second, but not necessarily related part of the classification, “refining of nonferrous materials,” as what the new operation will entail.

“When you hear ‘smelter,’ it brings up these old, smelly things,” Mike Rasmussen said. “When people drive by, there will be no visible smoke or fumes coming out of it.”

In fact, the only byproduct of the remelting process will be water vapor, they said.

INDEPENDENT REVIEW

Rybarczyk, an analytical environmental chemist, in August helped derail a proposal before Muncie’s Redevelopment Commission that would have recycled steel dust into zinc oxide. Following that success, he was approached by opponents of Element 13 to assess the proposal.

“I was asked to technically review this IDEM permit, and very quickly, I filled a tablet with all of the numerous errors, misrepresentations and fundamental questions, over 100 of them,” he told Pendleton’s town council. “These are questions that each of you should have asked a long time ago — questions that the town board of Ingalls should ask now.”

The danger, Rybarczyk said, is the chemicals and heavy metals that would be released and dispersed by the winds, leading possibly to cognitive deficits, Alzheimers and dementia for residents in nearby communities.

“Aluminum reduces plant growth in acidic soils and disturbs root growth and function. It’s highly toxic to trees,” he said.

Rybarczyk accused Newco of using old technology that would not be properly monitored. He further asserted the company would not adequately protect the health and safety of its workers.

“This isn’t a cupcake factory or a marshmallow factory,” he said. “This is some of the worst heavy type of industry and needs proper heavy industrial zoning. There should not be any variance or exception from the BZA. It does not belong on State Road 13, upwind of Pendleton, Lapel, Ingalls and Anderson.”

What was missing, said the Rasmussens, who watched a recording of the Pendleton Town Council meeting online, was context.

“I’m sure for a smelting project, he’s spot on. But we’re not doing a smelter,” said Chris Rasmussen. “We’re not disputing what he’s saying because he’s right about smelters.”

He’s also not sure how much Rybarczyk knows about the remelter Newco plans to use.

“I’m not sure where that information came from, because this is state-of-the-art,” he said.

Rybarczyk also admonished Pendleton’s council members to make their own decision and not rely on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to guide them.

“IDEM certifies nothing. They protect no one,” he said. “They merely follow the law, and find a way to permit everything.”

But Chris and Mike Rasmussen said Rybarczyk’s statement is an insult to those who work at IDEM and to the time and energy spent by Newco officials, engineers and other consultants in responsible preparations for Element 13.

“IDEM cannot issue a permit to an applicant if the terms of that permit are not protective of public health,” Mike Rasmussen said. “That’s what they’re designed to do — protect public health.”

He said rather than reducing property values, the plant will increase property values as it attracts new employees looking for places to live.

“People want to live close to where they want to work,” he said.

Metal trader Ryan Newhart is new to Newco, but he’s worked in the metal recycling and casting industries for more than six years.

He said he’s not at all concerned as an employee who will be onsite because the operation is regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Employees, for instance, will wear fire-retardant gear, including a sock over their heads.

“It’s simply the same thing as what a race car driver wears,” he said. “It’s all regulated by OSHA standards. You can’t work outside OSHA standards.”

Newhart said the expansion is not only good for Newco but also for the communities and environment surrounding it.

“Essentially, we are recycling aluminum to help the better good,” he said. “Otherwise, it would go into our landfills. The last thing we want is for our landfills to grow.

“Everybody says they want to be green,” he added, “but then they contradict themselves and don’t want to put in a facility to save the environment.”

Neither of the Rasmussen brothers live in Madison County, but they insist if a business owner proposed a remelter near their homes, they would welcome it.

“Absolutely, we’d put it in our back yard,” Chris Rasmussen said.

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