KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A business owner in Kalamazoo has until the end of the month to bring his sandblasting company up to state code or face more violations.
His neighbors tell us the work he’s doing is affecting their lives and their health but say he’s doing nothing to fix the problem.
“He needs to be shut down; he shouldn’t be able to do that,” said Guy Cherry, who lives on K Avenue.
He’s owned his property for more than 20 years, and the area is zoned commercial and residential.
“In between my house and that building is my air intake for my furnace, so all that dust goes into my house,” Cherry told FOX 17.
He’s concerned about the particles coming from Kalamazoo Sandblast next door. The issues, he says, started last summer.
“It’s just terrible to be standing outside when he’s blasting, and it’s loud too. We’re at 80 decibels right over there, 80 decibels. And it’s like 69 decibels inside my home,” he said.
The noise just seems to make his insomnia worse. Cherry has a traumatic brain injury following his military service.
He says the sandblasting sometimes continues well past midnight.
“We’ve had to leave several times just to get away while we’re trying to get somebody to deal with it; I’ve had to leave my own house.”
A medical document from the Battle Creek VA shows his asthma is getting worse.
The doctor says it’s been affected by “recent occurrence of neighbor raising dust that gets into his home.”
“I’ve been using my emergency inhaler so much he had to give me a different medication,” he said.
Guy is also an avid beekeeper and has his hives about 100 yards away.
He told me all the insects have died and he thinks the sandblasting had something to do with it.
Even his friends have issues when they visit.
“The clouds of stuff that come over, you get all that in your mouth, you taste it—you taste metal,” said Jeffrey Lee.
Lee stops by Cherry’s house a couple times a week and says that metal taste sometimes lingers for days.
“It’s like a really fine, fine grit. So, when you wash your vehicle, you have to be really careful you don’t take the finish off with it,” said Lee.
“It’s all over the top of the snow,” said Cherry while recording video showing just how dirty the snow was getting in his backyard.
The dust and dirt was all over his carport and vehicles.
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The same material is covering Brandon Robart’s sports car inside his garage.
“So, I got some pictures back in March right after I washed it, and it was spotless and it hasn’t moved from the garage since then, and it looks like a 15-year-old barn find at this time,” said Robart.
He’s lived at his property for more than 11 years and also started having issues last summer.
“They run from 7 or 8 in the morning to maybe up to 10 o’clock at night, sometimes seven days a week,” he said.
The blast media he’s seeing on his property is abrasive, so if you just wipe it off it’ll scratch the paint.
The dust and noise are also affecting his social life.
“It makes it so you can’t use your backyard,” he said. “You can’t have friends and family over to grill out.”
The two neighbors started small with their complaints, bringing their issues first to Comstock Township. They filed noise complaints back in November and December.
“They were supposed to come out here and inspect this hoop building because they never pulled the permit,” said Robart. “We actually contacted KABA, the Kalamazoo Area Building Authority—and they have not pulled the permit for that building.”
Comstock Township confirmed that the owner does not have a permit for the building.
When the guys say nothing was done about their complaints, the two neighbors contacted the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
EGLE then visited Kalamazoo Sandblast on Jan. 10. Days later it issued a violation notice saying the company did not have the proper filters, the building was not airtight, and the site did not have a permit to install.
EGLE says the company’s owner, Joe Cornelius, committed to having the building entirely enclosed and airtight by March 26.
But when the agency returned to the site in April, that was not the case, so it issued a second violation.
Shortly after that letter, Kalamazoo Sandblast posted on Facebook saying it was upgrading its dust collection and filtration system to stay in compliance.
Two days later, the attorney representing Cherry and Robart sent a cease-and-desist letter asking the company to stop operating until they’ve complied with EGLE and local regulations.
On May 11 they filed a temporary restraining order trying to get the business to stop operating, and a judge approved it.
Then just this week the judge issued a preliminary injunction against the company prohibiting the owner from doing any sandblasting, painting or other unlawful activities until it complies with state regulations and local ordinances.
Cornelius was not there when we stopped by, but he agreed to talk with me over Zoom.
“Both neighbors were OK with me until we got super busy, and I understand there’s noise, there’s dust. If we’re not making noise, then we’re not making money,” said Cornelius.
He tells FOX 17 the building itself is a greenhouse structure that’s framed in on the front and back and covered in sheet metal.
He tells me the property specs are delaying his upgrades to come into compliance.
“We cannot ventilate our building externally because of how this zoning is set up,” he said. “Basically, we have to… what we have now is exhaust fans that blow directly into a bag house, and the bag house—right now it’s sealed, but it’s basically a wooden box. We have one on order but they’re 14 weeks out.”
Cornelius tells me he’s trying to be civil with his neighbors, but it’s been a slow process getting up to code.
Recently they’ve also had a lot of downtime and headaches lately with all the complaints.
“Just go with the flow and everything happens for a reason, so we’re just going along with what we’ve got to deal with right now, and when we get back to work, hopefully we’ll be fully cleaned up around here and in compliance,” he said.
The neighbors say their main goal is just to make sure the business has the right permits, is up to code, more ventilated, and hopefully less noisy.
“He needs to pull the permit to install; he needs to get the appropriate filters and get the airtight building, so, and then get the noise down,” said Robart.
“If he can be self-contained and be compliant with the proper filtration, you wouldn’t be standing here,” said Cherry.
EGLE originally gave the company until May 6 to fix the issues but says it can be flexible if there’s a credible reason to extend the deadline.
Cornelius told the agency he should be in compliance by May 31.
He’s also asking for some exemptions to the rules he violated.
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