In a narrow 7 to 6 vote, the Memphis City Council decided yesterday to allow a heavy industrial wood chipping operation on Knight-Arnold near Getwell, despite the opposition of dozens of community members in attendance.
Residents argue that the zoning "light industrial" is a holdover from the 1970's and no longer accurately represents the make up of the neighborhood — which consists of American Way Middle School, Getwell Elementary School, churches, day cares, an apartment complex, and an assisted living facility.
Teachers and students from American Way Middle School, Martavius Jones from the Unified Shelby County School Board, Pastor James Henderson of Abundant Life Church, Sierra Club representatives, and a representative from Delta Medical Center were all present. Among other concerns, residents cited mulching dust harmful to students and nearby residents, the possibility of mulch fires, increased truck traffic the operation would create, and the precedent set for future heavy industrial operations.
A toxicologist hired by MTL Environmental vouched that mulching operations were safe, noting that mulch is a ubiquitous substance in playgrounds and parks.
"We're not talking about a little mulch on a playground," countered Rita Harris of the Sierra Club. "We're talking about five acres of mulch."
Still, Councilman Jim Strickland, who visited the mulch yard and saw firsthand the heavy industrial wood chipper in operation, expressed doubts about dust from the yard traveling far enough to reach the surrounding businesses and homes. He also walked around the vicinity of the mulch yard and said he could not discern a noticeable change in noise levels when the machine was running.
He voted in support of MTL Environmental's wood chipping operation, along with Reid Hedgepeth, Bill Boyd, Shea Flinn, Edmund Ford Jr., Kemp Conrad, and Bill Morrison. Voting in opposition were Janis Fullilove, Joe Brown, Harold Collins, Myron Lowery, Lee Harris, and Wanda Halbert, the councilwoman for that district.
For further reading, check out our initial coverage of the Mulch Madness.