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Liveable Saint John holds public meeting on potential reopening of American Iron & Metal port operations


The community group Liveable Saint John held a public meeting Thursday at the Saint John Free Public Library in Market Square to learn more about the impact of American Iron & Metal’s operations at its port property in Saint John have had on those in the area.

It was the fourth community meeting organized by the group since March. During Thursday’s meeting, Liveable Saint John presented a PowerPoint first shown to city council in late March on the community impacts of the scrap metal facility on the waterfront.

“The people who live closest to the facility have been impacted the most, but those are also the people who we hear from the least,” says Raven Blue of Liveable Saint John. “So we really want to be proactive in telling people you can come out and tell your story.”

The objective of the meetings was to produce a set of recommendations, based on public feedback, on how the company can be better regulated by the government in the interest of public health and safety as they are eventually allowed to resume operations.

Through online engagement sessions, public surveys, and a petition, the community group is learning just how severe AIM’s impacts have been in Saint John.

“We want to gather as much feedback from the public as possible so that all the decision makers can see for themselves this is the impact on the community,” Blue says. “It’s not just the impact of the fire, the fire was sort of the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effect people have had from their day-to-day operations.”

AIM has always been a polarizing figure on the city's west side, which was magnified in September of 2023 when a fire broke out in the scrapyard that covered the city in thick toxic smoke for nearly 24 hours.

Even before the fire, AIM has had its fair share of issues. During Liveable Saint John’s presentation, Blue stated there have been 181 explosions and 22 fires at the recycling plant since 2011, and were even shut down for a brief period of time in 2018 following explosions on site.

“I have been woken up in the middle of the night and as an early riser for work it just ruins your day,” says Bryan Wilson who does research for Liveable Saint John and lives on the lower west side. “I can share some similarities with others whether they were talking about dust, the impact of explosions, some of it is just pure reputation and people say, ‘oh you live where, what toxins are in your neighbourhood’ and some of those perceptions are really difficult to get out from under.”

“One of my neighbours said if it was a house party it would have been shut down years ago.”

Others have also had their issues with the company and how it has impacted their daily lives.

“We couldn’t go out and sit on our deck at night in the summer, or even in the day time,” says south end resident Elizabeth Weir. “The amount of dust we would find in the house we got to a point where we couldn’t even open the windows. I think the effects have certainly been broad.”

“A lot of people have reported impacts to their health,” Blue notes. “There are impacts on their emotional well-being, their stress and anxiety, some people have experienced respiratory conditions so I think that is something that really hasn’t been studied adequately. This isn’t a new thing it has been ongoing for 10 years.”

Another issue caused by the September fire was that gardens were ruined due to the toxic nature of the fire. The City of Saint John had to replace all of the soil at its community garden in Rainbow Park following the blaze, but others aren’t sure what to do with little direction having been given.

Harbour View High School has a massive garden on its property, but students aren’t sure if it is safe to plant in the soil that may have been contaminated last year. Karen Vickers is a teacher at the school, and attended Thursday’s meeting hoping for some direction that she could relay to her students.

“They don’t feel they should be paying for the soil replenishment and I don’t blame them,” says Vickers. “It was the students who brought to my attention that any sort of residual bits of vegetables lying around afterwards, they weren’t even allow to putting those in the compost, that’s how strong the fear of contamination was.”

The company has not operated at its port property since the September fire, and it is unclear when, or if, they will be able to resume operations. If AIM were to ever be moved from its current spot on the Saint John waterfront, it may be now.

“The political will behind this I have been shocked by,” notes Saint John City Councillor David Hickey who attend the meeting. “It’s disappointing it took shutting the city down for a whole day and subsequent impacts that we all know, but the political will is there.”

Hickey also added the city is following up on the presentation initially given to council by Liveable Saint John in late March on how they can improve the situation for the community.

The group plans to continue holding meetings to raise awareness on the matter until the situation is settled in court later this summer.

“In sort of the age of social media we get bombarded everyday with a new message it’s really hard to keep the attention, and it’s really easy to forget,” Wilson says. “So by keeping that attention people realize it’s a serious issue, it’s an ongoing issue and I think people also realize that there becomes a kind of central place where they can have that discussion.”

Those who were unable to attend Thursday’s session but want to voice their opinion, they can visit Liveable Saint John’s website to share their thoughts in an online survey (which can be done anonymously), or participate in a petition calling for the permanent relocation of American Iron & metal from the Saint John waterfront.

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