Heavy metals and explosives

City Council revisits Chico Scrap Metal, considers proposal to legalize fireworks

Chico Scrap Metal on East 20th Street has been entangled in legal trouble since 2008, when it was fined for violating environmental safety laws.

Chico Scrap Metal on East 20th Street has been entangled in legal trouble since 2008, when it was fined for violating environmental safety laws.


The prolonged saga involving Chico Scrap Metal Inc. and its recycling operation on East 20th Street came before Chico City Council once again during its meeting on Tuesday (April 21). It’s been years since the owners were fined for knowingly violating environmental safety laws, but Chico State students say the site is still contaminated.

Back in 2007, a study by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) revealed contamination in the form of chromium, lead and zinc, as well as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) at the site, which sits close to Chapman Elementary School. In 2008, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey filed charges against the owners, George Scott Sr. and his adult children, for failing to comply with DTSC’s order to clean up their facility. The Scotts were subsequently fined $700,000 in Butte County Superior Court—$500,000 of which was to be used for cleanup. But appeals dragged on for years, and were eventually dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 17.

Additionally, back in 2008, Chico Scrap Metal was given notice by the City Council that it would have to relocate by the end of 2011 due to a Chapman/Mulberry Neighborhood Plan rezone. In October 2011, the council granted the owners an extension to remain at the East 20th Street location until Dec. 31, 2014.

Now, months past that deadline, city staff is attempting to negotiate a compromise with Chico Scrap Metal, said Community Development Director Mark Wolfe. The city is considering removing a clause from municipal code that would allow the operation to stay put—in exchange for aesthetic improvements to the business’ frontage and operational changes “to eliminate the more egregious of the nuisance factors,” Wolfe said.

During the public comment period, students from Adrienne Edwards’ environmental science class at Chico State presented a report on past and present health hazards at Chico Scrap Metal based on information from the DTSC.

The class determined that PCBs are still concentrated in some areas of the recycling facility, said student Cameron Ulyate, warning that runoff to 16th Street near Chapman Elementary presents a “risk of children stepping in these contaminated puddles.” Student Lexi Smith followed up with recommendations to convert the site to recycling collection, rather than processing, and conduct regular runoff sampling to ensure “hazardous materials are confined to the area and aren’t a danger to public health.”

“Aesthetic landscaping is not sufficient to protect the health of residents, schools and pedestrians in the area,” Edwards concluded. “We’ve got to know that they’re good neighbors and it’s a safe, clean operation.”

Scott’s daughter Kim argued that the students’ report is flawed and replete with errors, referencing a letter from the DTSC dated April 12, 2012, stating that Chico Scrap Metal has met the conditions of its investigation.

“They are satisfied, and now want us to move forward with a remedial action work plan in order to mitigate any of the low levels of contaminants on the site,” she said.

The Scotts have 60 days to submit their applications for design review of the frontage improvements and a development agreement, Wolfe said, adding there will be public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council prior to finalizing the agreements.

“I would say 60 days is more than generous at this point,” said Mayor Mark Sorensen.

In other council news, Councilman Andrew Coolidge’s proposal to legalize state-approved fireworks in Chico never got off the ground. Coolidge framed the proposal as a means of helping nonprofit organizations—many of which have been cut off from funding as the city grapples with its own financial problems.

A fireworks industry representative outlined potential benefits to the community. Each year, 16 nonprofits chosen in a lottery would sell fireworks approved by the state’s Safe and Sane program, generating an estimated total of $500,000 in net revenue.

Members of the council voiced approval of Coolidge’s attempt to throw nonprofits a life preserver, but most said the timing of his proposal was off. Fire Chief Shane Lauderdale said he’d need time to properly assess the public safety implications of legalizing fireworks, and the council agreed that asking his department to do so before July 4 would be rushing it. Councilmembers Randall Stone and Ann Schwab also questioned the wisdom of legalizing fireworks during California’s epic drought.

“The amount of money potentially generated for nonprofits—which, as you know, Mr. Coolidge, is a matter very near to my heart—doesn’t seem to be significant enough,” added Councilwoman Tami Ritter. “We’re looking at something that is going to divvy out chump change, essentially.”

“I can see the writing on the wall,” said Coolidge, before the council voted 7-0 to table the proposal indefinitely.