MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is taking aim at the recycling plant where a fire has been burning since early Tuesday.

He criticized Northern Metals, and said he doesn’t trust the company.

Officials report the fire in Becker is nearly out. The steam seen Friday is from hot spots being treated. A private company will put out the remaining hot spots.

READ MORE: Seen From Space: Black Smoke From Becker Fire Captured By Weather Satellite

While the firefighting efforts are nearing an end, there is much more ahead for the company with a history of polluting. Frustration and concern heat up in the community.

“The residents in Becker, we didn’t know what they were really doing. We didn’t know there was three and four stories of cars there,” Becker resident Jim Thurman said.

Gov. Walz blasted the shredding company for not following procedures.

“They stacked these things 90-foot high and hundreds-yards long with no fire breaks between them as they’re supposed to have,” Walz said.

(credit: CBS)

The troubled plant was ordered out of Minneapolis for polluting. The company admitted it altered records and was fined $2.5 million.

Northern Metals was allowed to move to Becker. It wasn’t operational yet, and now that’s on hold. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued what’s called an “Administrative Order,” which says Northern Metals can’t operate until the fire is out, they develop a cleanup plan, complete an environmental assessment and update plans for storing scrap metal.

“I just said it and I have to be careful because they will sue me, but I do not trust this entity to do the right thing,” Walz said.

The community has raised concerns about the air quality. Officials say testing found nothing hazardous.

And then there’s the million gallons of water used to fight the fire.

READ MORE: Health Concerns Linger Following Becker Recycling Plant Fire

“They say they’ve got holding ponds over there. Are they lined? Is that going to keep contaminants from going into the ground? Very disappointed with this whole situation with Northern Metals,” Thurman said.

Inspectors also found fire code violations at the Minneapolis site. While not operational, Northern Metals had stacked cars there in a similar way.

Pollution officials say it does not have “practices in place at either location that protect the health and welfare of Minnesota residents.”

Northern Metals Recycling CEO Scott Helberg released this statement early Friday evening:

We are grateful for the extraordinary work performed by firefighters and law enforcement over the last several days. As a 10-year resident of Becker with children and grandchildren in the area, I understand and appreciate the concerns I’ve heard expressed this week.

Northern Metals Recycling strongly objects to today’s contentions from the MPCA. The company worked closely with the MPCA to obtain all necessary permitting approvals.

To be clear: the Northern Metals Recycling facility in Becker has never been operational. The shredder has yet to be turned on and its installation is ongoing. Nevertheless, the facility is otherwise in strict compliance with all applicable requirements. We would particularly note that all of the recyclable metal subject to the fire was stored on impervious surfaces and all water from the firefighting efforts was contained on-site as part of our newly constructed storm water containment system. Therefore, there does not appear to be any on or off-site soil and groundwater impacts.

Once it is opened, this state-of-the-art fully enclosed shredding facility will employ 85 Minnesotans and set the benchmark for sustainability and environmental protection for the recycling industry in the state and the nation.

Northern Metals Recycling will continue to be in close contact with state, county, city and federal officials regarding this incident and its cause, which remains under investigation.

READ MORE: Ilhan Omar Says Recycling Plant Should Be Held ‘Criminally Liable’ For Becker Fire

Jennifer Mayerle

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