MANATEE -- Two years after Strategic Materials expanded its recycling business to increase its capacity from 5,000 tons a month to 100,000 tons a month, the decades-old company is in a battle with nearby neighbors over the amount of dust coming from the plant.
The expansion helped create more jobs and allowed the plant to stay open longer.
But residents of Villa del Sol say they are tired of having to keep their mobile homes closed up on nice days and washing the dust off of their cars.
The changes to the plant have pitted two decades-old neighbors against one another as residents have called on the county's code enforcement office to get the company to clean up its processes.
Jim Blastorah, a park resi
dent, filed a complaint with the Manatee County Code Enforcement Division in October. The company was ordered to appear at a Code Enforcement Board hearing in February on two citations for violations, but the matter was continued until the March meeting, according to Nick Azzara, spokesman for the county. A code enforcement officer cited the company for having trash and debris stored on the site and having an unscreened outdoor storage area.
The plant sits on adjacent property east of the mobile home park, which has been at 6515 15th St. E. for more than four decades. The two are separated by railroad tracks and a line of tall trees.
Charlie Bailey, a Sarasota attorney representing Strategic Materials, did not return messages on Friday. But he addressed the complaints during citizen comments at a Manatee County Commission meeting March 13.
The plant has been a recycling facility since 1974, Bailey said, and employs 55 people.
The plant is located in an industrial zone, as are the adjacent properties to the north, east and south, he said.
While Bailey told commissioners that Strategic Materials is not in violation of any part of the code, he said the plant managers are trying to address the park residents' concerns.
They have made an investment of seven-figures into the facility, including construction of a windscreen along the western boundary of the property to deal with the dust, Bailey said. An irrigation system also was installed to keep the dust down, he said.
Bailey asked for a continuance to April 10 so that company officials had time to meet with the park residents about their concerns.
"Since the facility was initially cited in October, Manatee County staff has taken the necessary steps to address the code violations which we think will go a long way in resolving Villa del Sol residents' concerns," Azzara said. "We're hoping the steps Strategic Materials takes to meet with residents to address these issues will be played out prior to the next scheduled hearing before the Code Enforcement Board."
Blastorah did not return phone messages Friday. According to Tom Stalhman, the maintenance supervisor at the park, the situation with dust started after the company expanded two years ago.
Piles of sorted plastic and glass at least 30 feet tall are scattered about the property of the plant, located at 6420 19th St. E.
But it was the dust created after the glass is processed that has the residents concerned.
"One of the residents had the dust tested," Stalhman said, "and the analysis showed it was glass dust."
He said several people have complained about coughing.
The plant manager, Mike Curtner, was not in his office Friday to comment on the code enforcement complaint.
For Stalhman, the improvements, so far are not enough.
He said he was supposed to clean the water filter on the community pool once a month, but he has to do it once a week because the dust settles on top of the water and on the pool deck every day.
"At the office, we just got done painting the trim," the maintenance supervisor said, "but last week we had to power wash it to get the black dust off."
The plant manager and the company attorney had a meeting with the community on Tuesday, Stalhman said.
"I asked them why they don't use silos," instead of storing the processed glass outside, he said, "and they said they didn't think about it, but thought it was a good idea."
-- Staff writer Sarah Kennedy contributed to this report