More than a decade after the American Iron & Supply Company first sought permits to build a scrap-iron shredder on the Mississippi River north of downtown, Minneapolis has agreed to a settlement allowing its construction. Unfortunately, the city has been planning to reclaim the riverfront from former industrial uses and convert it to parkland, and the construction of a giant metal shredder would postpone any renovation for decades. The city of Minneapolis, neighborhood and regional authorities and the state deserve as much criticism as the company for allowing such a facility to inhabit an area that needs preservation. Although businesses and community leaders are realizing the benefits of revitalizing downtown, it cannot remain a competitive regional business center with a metal-shredding facility within its borders.
On March 24, after protracted negotiations with American Iron, the Minneapolis City Council voted 6-5 to pay the company $8.75 million in settlement fees and allow the shredder to be built according to a few conditions. Originally, the company planned to construct a German Kondirator facility, an unenclosed plant that pounds scrap metal into small pieces. However, as one of the meager concessions to which American Iron agreed, an enclosed facility will be built instead. Regardless, the riverfront will still be occupied by an unsightly shredding facility and accompanying metal-scrap yards. Council members who voted in favor of the settlement said this agreement was necessary to avoid a larger eventual settlement. Those who voted against it understand how important the area is and how detrimental the shredder would be to it.
The riverfront location is the worst place in the entire state for the shredder. Downtown is attracting more residential developers and construction of important cultural and public institutions, like a new central library and Guthrie Theatre. Restoring the former natural beauty of the riverfront is an essential component of this redevelopment and the city’s overall plan to restore parks along the Mississippi. The metal-shredding facility will destroy the serenity and natural beauty, not just of its immediate surroundings, but of others nearby. The traffic from large dump trucks, the noise of the pulverizing machinery and the facility’s emissions will blight the area for residents as well as visitors to other successfully redeveloped areas along the river.
There are several hundred other locations in Minnesota where the facility could be built, but the company arrogantly believes its interests are more important than the concerns of the city. A location in a remote municipality would afford the company more land and bring jobs to a city that may need some. If the company needs a riverfront location for transportation purposes, there are many others along the Mississippi, Minnesota or St. Croix rivers.
It is difficult to understand how such a dreadful development prospect is close to being realized. It will be more difficult, though, to live with the consequences. Mayor Sayles Belton should have personally appealed to the firm’s president to build elsewhere. The City Council should have aggressively counter-lobbied state legislators against its construction. And Gov. Ventura should have intervened in the discussions. The last obstacle, however, is Minneapolis residents, who could still dissuade the company with their protest.