Storm Ready

Features - Scrap Industry News

A metal recycler's renovated location enhances its downtown image.

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March 24, 2006

More than 20 years of expansive downtown growth in St. Joseph, Mo., eventually engulfed the 100 year-old scrap metal site operated by American Compressed Steel and other industrial properties. The city found itself with an island of industrial operations between its business district and the Missouri River.

The growth surrounded the scrap metal recycling business, a machine shop, a tool and die company, an electronics firm and other industrial companies—all within a few blocks of newer hotels, restaurants, office buildings and retail shops.

"When we bought the site in 1983 it was a dirt bowl near downtown St. Joseph," says Jeff Ross, executive vice president and one of the owners of American Compressed Steel. Today the location, still using the trade name Missouri Iron and Metal, recycles tens of thousands of tons of scrap metal each year.

The business has easy access to the Interstate 229 business loop for customers and the railroad for outbound shipments of scrap metal. Most of the company’s customers are industrial, with a mix of farmers and some occasional drop-ins.

HIGH VISIBILITY. Proximity to the I-229 business loop has complicated things. Clint Thompson, director of planning and community development for the city of St. Joseph, says Missouri Iron and Metal Co. falls within 244 acres of land—much of it considered brownfield—that St. Joseph is developing.

The company is visible from the elevated freeway ramp looping into the downtown business area. Initially, the city wanted to move the scrap yard, but it was too costly and a suitable site wasn’t found. Instead the city has worked with the recycler to increase the attractiveness of the site and to protect the nearby Missouri River.

The dirt surface and scrap piles at the site concerned the city. After a rainstorm, customer and transport traffic moving in and out of the muddy bowl tracked muck into the street, causing an unsightly mess, according to Dan Riley, operations manager for the site. "Because the site was dirt, whenever it rained, mud would pour out into the street," says Riley. After a rainstorm, the site also held standing water that added to the tracking nuisance. All of this made for an unattractive site and was even noted by the St. Joseph News-Press.

Even before this, however, Ross says his company understood the need for a clean downtown area and for protecting the river and took steps to improve the appearance of the site. "As owners, my brothers and I wanted to work with the city to improve the site before it was a problem," he says.

HEAVY WORK. To make the business "downtown friendly," the company and city began working together in the fall of 2004 to create a more attractive site and to fit with other renovations in downtown St. Joseph under the city’s brownfield reclamation effort. That meant grading 40,000 square feet, paving about 54,000 square feet, tearing down old buildings and building new ones. In the end, the recycler re-arranged its buildings to hide the scrap metal piles and put up an 8-foot chain-link fence with diagonal plastic inserts that obscures the rest from passersby.

Greg Houghton, operations manager, says the company paved the property to keep the scrap piles contained and to make it easy for customers to unload. The paving also eliminated the standing water and tracking of mud into the downtown streets by trucks exiting the recycling yard.

Twelve-inch piping from the site carries runoff to a 42-inch combined storm and sanitary sewer line.

As part of the site’s extreme makeover, American Compressed Steel worked with the city on permitting and construction approvals and with the South St. Joseph Independent Sewer District to determine the impact of stormwater runoff on the sewer.

United States Construction Inc. of Shawnee Mission, Kan., handled the renovation while the company’s recycling and sales processes continued. During the work, Elden Dilks, vice president and project manager, says workers uncovered old building foundations and long-buried scrap iron at the century old industrial site. After breaking up and removing the foundations and scrap, the construction crew installed the stormwater system in just three days and then sculpted the surface to promote drainage.

Dilks says the site was generally flat but was graded at 1 percent to help direct water away from the piles of recyclable metals and toward the nine catch-basin drains collecting runoff.

Although Missouri Iron and Metal operates under an existing industrial stormwater permit, the company decided it needed to plan for growth of its metal recycling and new steel businesses. Understanding that this might impact the local sewer district and site storm quality, the owners began rethinking the existing stormwater solution as part of its renovation efforts.

The company decided on a treatment chain using a StormGate high flow bypass followed by an 8-foot-by-16-foot StormFilter from Stormwater360, with offices in Scarborough, Maine; Portland, Ore.; and Elkridge, Md. The stormwater treatment configuration is one of several tested and customized for the scrap metal industry by Stormwater360 industrial design team specialists.

"Although this solution is similar to many of our proven scrap metal yard configurations, we customized it for site-specific configuration, rainfall and pollutant removal needs," says Daniel Scarpine, Stormwater360 project engineer.

The vendor customized both units to treat runoff from the site and sized the StormFilter to treat the first flush of a storm. Multiple catch basins collect runoff and pipe it to the StormGate and then to the StormFilter.

Inside the StormFilter, 11 cartridges containing an organic, granular CSF leaf media filter the runoff. The CSF captures and holds dirt and heavy metals (especially zinc, lead and copper) that might be carried away by rain draining from the site. It also filters any oil sheen left by trucks leaking oil while moving about the yard.

The slightly sloped site directs polluted low-flow runoff to the stormwater quality system. During torrential downpours, the StormGate reduces high-flow-turbulence and improves water quality by carefully controlling the stormwater flow. A specially placed overflow weir bypasses runoff that exceeds the design water quality flow rate to avoid churning up collected sediments, oil and grease already in the stormwater treatment system.

Today the site has five buildings. The company uses one for maintenance; two are dedicated to cutting scrap metal for resale; and the remaining two are three-sided buildings dedicated to storing new steel sold on-site. Built along the street and behind a chain-link fence, three of the 20-foot-tall buildings hide the operation from downtown. "We thought by putting the buildings along the roadside edges, we could present a better image to the downtown community and camouflage our scrap piles," says Ross.

City planner Thompson gives Missouri Iron and Metal high marks for its efforts. "Trying to be a good corporate citizen, they went above and beyond what as necessary for their business," he says.

The author is a physical engineer with Stormwater360, Portland, Ore.