Company makes overtures to a leery neighborhood
North Valley residents can be wary of newcomers. “It's an area that we watch very closely because we don't need more bad folks in there,” says David Wood, president of the Greater Gardner Neighborhood Association.
Wood refers not to homeowners or tenants but to a questionable industrial legacy—particularly along an unincorporated tract of county land between Griegos and Montaño that runs along Edith and the railroad tracks.
In 1998, the EPA investigated contamination at the old Edith facilities of Rinchem, Inc.—a company that still handles hazardous chemical waste down the road—and designated it a low-priority Superfund site. In 2010, after two years of wrangling with the Air Quality Control Board, residents brought about stronger environmental protections at the neighboring American Cement transfer station.
In January, federal experts in protective gear trucked tons of soil contaminated with asbestos out of the yard of a former insulation manufacturing plant. That’s right next door to a piece of property an Arizona company is eyeing.
Indeed, a new industrial enterprise may be looking to set up shop in the North Valley. And the CEO says he can't wait to prove that they will be a good neighbor—not a dirty one.
"We appreciate the anxiousness, and we’re sorry that they’ve had negative experiences in the past, but I’d like to make the distinction that those negative experiences were not with Friedman Recycling," says CEO David Friedman.
The company is a family-owned and -operated firm that Mayor Richard Berry says will help elevate Albuquerque's recycling program to a status other cities have long taken for granted. It will process the stream of newspapers, cartons, bottles and other materials that Solid Waste Management Department workers will soon be delivering to a new Friedman warehouse. The city has requested the warehouse be located within a 10-mile radius of the Big-I.
After the contract was signed in October, the company became responsible for Albuquerque’s recycling. Friedman has been carting our recyclables to its El Paso location. The early stages of the new citywide recycling paradigm have been smooth sailing so far, in large part because of the private-public partnership between the city and Friedman, says Solid Waste Director Jill Holbert.
The old municipal processing plant has been shuttered, and Solid Waste employees are preparing to distribute recycling bins to every household, says Holbert. She says she hopes that soon thousands of tons of reusable waste will be diverted away from the bulging Cerro Colorado Landfill.
While the company hasn’t yet purchased a site for its processing facility, Brennon Williams, zoning administrator at Bernalillo County, confirmed that Friedman Recycling sent a request for information on Jan. 3 concerning a plot on Edith—near sites of significant environmental blight.
That put residents on alert.
Neighborhood association President Wood says he was anxious to have a conversation with the recycling company owners, especially after some background research revealed a history of more than two dozen fires over the course of 14 years—two of them large structural blazes—at the company’s recycling plant in Phoenix.
His association initially misunderstood the zoning information request and feared public input was being bypassed, says Wood, who adds that he felt confident about the process after conversations with county officials and CEO David Friedman. Wood is “taking a wait-and-see attitude until they finally reveal an address.”
Friedman can't disclose a specific site address to the Alibi, though he says he's optimistic that a final purchase is imminent.
He also says he’s eager to continue reassuring locals that the company will distinguish itself from the “bad folks” they’re used to dealing with. “We’re used to being the good guys.”
Friedman says he’s proud of the benefits his business plans to offer the city: an estimated doubling of the total volume of collected recyclables, profit-sharing that will help fill Albuquerque’s coffers, a full-time educational coordinator on staff to spread awareness about recycling and related environmental issues, and a $20 million investment in the warehouse, which will employ 35 people.
He also confidently ticks off responses to anticipated fears and misconceptions about the recycling facility itself: No, there will not be incineration of materials at the site or chemical transformation of any kind. No, the plant will not be a transfer station that accepts all manner of garbage. And yes, the warehouse will be open to the public, with educational programs built into its day-to-day operations—including interactive exhibits and a gallery for schoolchildren and other visitors to observe the plant in full swing.
“All we’re doing there is a dry process, combing over recyclables and running them through a series of conveyors, shakers, screens and magnets to separate them back out again. Then we simply bale the material—which is compacting it and wrapping it in wire—and then we ship it off as a raw material,” he says.
He admits that fires in the Arizona plant have been a problem in the past but adds that “every recycling facility in Phoenix has had fires—not just ours.” The blazes were a result of recycling paper goods in a hot, dry climate, said Bob Kahn, then Phoenix’s deputy fire chief, in a 2000 Waste & Recycling News article.
Friedman says the outdoor Phoenix location is installing “aggressive” fire suppression systems that will be built into the Albuquerque warehouse and storage areas from the outset. He says these measures, along with around-the-clock guards and surveillance, will mitigate fire risks at the site.