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Oronoco planning commission nixes aluminum smelter

July 18, 2018 GMT

ORONOCO — The Oronoco Planning and Zoning Commission voted Thursday night to deny a request to allow an aluminum smelter within the city.

Oronoco Auto Parts moved a smelter into its building within the city last year, but the city has worked to get the company to give up its plans to run the smelter. That has included letters asking the company to cease and desist its activities within the city.

The planning commission met to hear public input on whether a smelter should be allowed under the B-2 zoning ordinance, the zoning classification under which the Oronoco Auto Parts building within the city is zoned.

“We’ve lived in this Oronoco neighborhood for 41 years,” said Lori Christopherson. “Neighborhood, not industrial park.”

Christopherson said the business has changed what it does, and needs to seek a permit from the city or, if it moves the smelter across the street into the jurisdiction of Oronoco Township, a conditional-use permit if it wants to operate.

“How many times can you tweek a business before the term ‘grandfathered’ is no longer applicable?” she asked.

Roger Wells, like Christopherson, lives next to the former salvage yard where customers could come and purchase used auto parts. Wells said a smelter would release harmful toxins in the air. He brought studies to the commission linking aluminum smelting to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

“Air emissions depend on the quality of scrap used,” Wells said. “If you look at the parts that have gone into that warehouse, they’ve got a lot of petroleum products on them.”

Brandon Evans said the building’s current use as a warehouse for metal scrap isn’t even allowed by the B-2 zoning, according to the city website. As for smelting, that is far beyond the scope of a B-2 property.

City Council Member Beau Hanenberger said the planning commission’s vote essentially blocks Oronoco Auto Parts from operating the smelter within the city. However, he added, a representative of the company stated at the last Oronoco Township meeting that the company would move the smelter to the township.

“I think no matter what happens, they would have to get a special conditional-use permit to move that to the township side,” Hanenberger said.

Eventually, he said, as a resident he’d like to see the new version of Oronoco Auto Parts — the one that crushes metal and looks to add smelting to its operation — to find a location away from a residential neighborhood.

“I don’t think that business is a fit for our town,” Hanenberger said. “There’s the proximity to the watershed and our karst geology.”