SoutheastFort Wayne e-waste smelter project challenged in court | Local

The plan to build a recycling facility on Fort Wayne’s southeast side for metals extracted from defunct electronic devices faces a court challenge.

The suit against the Fort Wayne Plan Commission, the city’s redevelopment department and the developer, Exurban USA and Exurban IN, was filed Thursday afternoon in Allen Superior Court. 

The suit contends the Plan Commission unlawfully approved the project’s primary development plan for a zoning category that does not permit electronics recycling.

The city’s zoning ordinance does allow for a “recycling processing facility” in the site’s general industrial zoning, the suit says. But it contends that category explicitly restricts the recycled materials to household trash, such as magazines, books, glass and cans that are typically placed in a household recycling bin – not components derived from sophisticated computers, cell phones, automotive electronics and the like.

Exurban has said it plans to take in up to 45,000 metric tons of electronics waste a year. The site on the northeast corner of Adams Center and Paulding roads was described in application documents as including a large structure labeled “smelter” and as a metals “refinery,” or a place where metals are purified.

James P. Fenton, a retired Fort Wayne attorney, has taken up the cause of nearby residents, who opposed the more than $300 million project at an Oct. 10 plan commission public hearing because of the potential for pollution and environmental damage.

Plaintiffs are David, Ronald and Janet Bulmahn, who own a farm they say will be devalued by 30% from the project just to the north of their 57 acres. The suit says the land has been farmed by the family for 150 years. 

“The court should find that the actions of the Plan Commission in approving the Exurban (plan)…were arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law and not supported by substantial evidence,” the suit says. “The court should reverse the decision and send the matter back to the body “with instructions to deny Exurban’s application,” the lawsuit continues.

Further, the suit alleges Exurban officials deliberately misled plan commission members by failing to disclose the full definition of a recycling processing facility in the city zoning law and how that definition differs from state law’s definition of electronic waste recycling. Company officials must have known the difference, the suit says.

The suit also contends the plan commission acted improperly by not agreeing to a public request to delay consideration. The commission also wrongfully accepted a document from Exurban at an Oct. 17 business meeting after a deadline had passed and did not provide that document to the public, the court filing alleges.

The commission also erred in not allowing opponents to speak at that business meeting, during which the development plan was approved, the suit says.

Not allowing public comments at business meetings is a regular practice by the plan commission. But it drew the ire of some attendees of the Oct. 17 meeting who left after being told they were not allowed to speak and plan commission President Connie Haas Zuber said she would call security to escort them out.

Exurban needed approval of the site plan and a proposal to allow several buildings to rise more than the 40 feet allowed under zoning law. Because officials believed the proposed smelter did not require rezoning, the only recourse for the public was appeal to the court, Felton said

The project at 5667 Adams Center Road has been looked on favorably by state and local economic development officials. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has approved up to $2.5 million in tax credits plus $200,000 in training assistance to the developers. The landowner, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, agreed to allow Exurban to buy the land for $768,000.

Exurban, whose parent company is based in London, has said the company plans to create 200 jobs in Fort Wayne by the end of 2026. The jobs would pay $50,000 to $70,000 a year, company officials have said.

During the public hearing, about 10 residents spoke against the project, including representatives of Citizens for Environmental Equity SouthEast, or CEESE, who gathered dozens of signatures on petitions against the facility.

Ben Roussel, executive director of the Department of Planning Services, and Robert Eherenman, plan commission attorney, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. Fenton said he took the suit on a pro-bono basis, or without being paid.

The proposed smelter would be located near one proposed site for a new Allen County Jail and a former hazardous-waste landfill.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *