Last October, when MTL Environmental, LLC bought 54 acres between American Way and Knight-Arnold, few residents and nearby businesses were concerned. In fact, most weren't aware of the purchase. Now, MTL Environmental has their full attention.
The company's plans to develop its 54 acres into a mulching yard came to light in mid-February, when MTL Environmental applied to the Land Use Control Board for a permit to use a massive wood chipper on the property.
This galvanized neighboring business owners, who say the heavy industrial operation has no place in their community. The area is zoned "light industrial," but American Way Middle School, Getwell Elementary School, churches, a nursing home, an apartment complex, and a daycare surround the 54 acres.
MTL's initial proposal for heavy industrial machinery was denied on the grounds that the wood chipper would create too much noise in the area. Then, after the applicant arranged for a noise study, the Land Use Control Board reversed its decision, stating that the noise would not have a considerable effect on the area and that the board's concerns had been addressed.
But neighboring businesses pointed to a number of other questions beyond the noise pollution. In a Child Impact Study conducted by Michael Schmidt at the University of Memphis, issues of airborne particles, bacteria, mold, and fumes came to the fore. The study concluded that the mulching operation would have an "extremely negative" impact on children in the area.
Sierra Club organizer Rita Harris says the mulching operation could also pollute Nonconnah Creek. The mulch yard sits directly on Ten Mile Creek, which flows into the Nonconnah.
"Naturally the owner is not supposed to let debris and everything get into the creek, but who's going to be checking it?" Harris said. "The city and state don't have adequate staff to go on private property and check to see if you're doing the right thing with a creek or stream. And whatever gets into that creek, if it's contaminants or whatever, it's going into the Nonconnah."
The case goes before the Memphis City Council on April 17th. With the Land Use Control Board's recommendation for passage, the onus is now on citizens and community members to convince the council to rule in their favor.
"The Land Use Control Board has a really tough job trying to make decisions about different businesses that have applied for permits, and it seems like sometimes they feel it's their duty to give these people permits," Harris said. "But the community was there first. The community has made an investment, and it seems to me that they should be able to say what they do and don't want in their neighborhood."
Reverend James Henderson of Abundant Life Fellowship Church has led the citizens' charge against this operation, holding community meetings and keeping residents informed of developments.
"This adds no value to the community and has no positive economic impact," Henderson said. "It sets a dangerous precedent for other undesirable businesses to come into the neighborhood."