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City shuts down Calumet Pallet plant after violations

October 6, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — The city shut off the utilities at the Calumet Pallet site on Ohio Street on Monday after giving the company multiple chances to bring the property into compliance with fire safety standards.

According to Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak, Calumet Pallet’s exterior and interior continue to be littered with stacks of pallets and mounds of dust that exceed the maximum allowed height, width and separation deemed safe by the National Fire Protection Association and/or International Fire Code.

They also reportedly have no suitable road to allow a fire engine to reach the premises to address an emergency effectively.

“(Owner Jeff Bridegroom) did correct a majority of the violations, but there were still some glaring issues that he was not addressing,” Kazmierczak said Thursday. “And not only did he not address those, but he continued running normal operations – which is in direct violation of the cease-and-desist letter that we sent him on Jan. 18.”

Kazmierczak said he cited Calumet Pallet with at least 10 life safety violations in 2017, and sent the letter after determining little to no work had been done to address the problems he’d identified.

At a hearing before the Michigan City Board of Public Works & Safety in August, the city gave Kazmierczak the authority to disconnect the company’s utilities at his discretion.

He said he and city Building Commissioner Sue Downs continued working with Calumet Pallet for another month in the hopes that sufficient progress would be made.

“This has been more work than I wanted it to be; I never want to shut a business down,” Kazmierczak said. “But I had no other choice than to do this.

“And what I find remarkable is that once (Bridegroom) heard that we were going to shut him down – because NIPSCO gave him a courtesy call – it’s amazing the amount of work he got done in a weekend.”

Kazmierczak said some violations have been completely addressed, like the repair of a formerly inoperable sprinkler system and fire alarm. Also, two of the company’s three hydrants have been brought up to standard.

However, at the most recent inspection at Calumet Pallet, Kazmierczak said, he had to confiscate sliced electrical cords that were running through water.

“Our object is to point out life safety issues because they’re for your benefit, for the people who visit your facility and for the people who work there,” Kazmierczak said Thursday.

“And when you blatantly overlook violations, I have no other choice. (Bridegroom) made countless agreements with us to bring in equipment to correct the yard, but nothing came to fruition. … We gave him every opportunity and every chance.”

When the utilities were shut off around 11 a.m. Monday, Kazmierczak and Downs were present on the grounds with NIPSCO and the Michigan City Police Department.

“(Bridegroom’s) attorney, Mr. Scott McClure, was there, and I told him the utilities will not be turned back on until all life safety violations have been corrected,” Kazmierczak said.

McClure did not respond to The News-Dispatch’s request for comment Thursday.

According to Kazmierczak, Calumet Pallet is also in violation of various OSHA standards, some of which coincide with the fire safety issues he cited.

“OSHA violations are fineable. With me, if (Bridegroom) can’t find the means to clean up the yard and the city has to, then the city can bill him or put a lien on the property,” Kazmierczak said. “But the city won’t fine him because he’s started to correct the problems. Now, if he brings in generators to continue operations, then it will go to court and these violations will become fineable.”

Kazmierczak said Bridegroom and his workers still have access to the property so they can bring the yard and facility up to code; but normal production cannot resume until all violations have been addressed.

The fire marshal said he will follow up with Calumet Pallet every two weeks and make periodic inspections until all issues have been resolved.

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