After over two years, the case of Commonwealth V. River Metals Recycling, which first saw the light in Campbell County District Court Judge Cameron Blau’s courtroom in January 2021, has been set for a bench trial.
The trial is scheduled for July 7 at 9 a.m. in the Campbell County District Court and is expected to last one day. As the defendants in the case, River Metals Recycling, also known locally as RMR, was allowed to choose if they wanted a jury or a bench trial. They selected a bench trial conducted by the judge alone to determine the facts of the case—though they can still change their decision.
The trial has been long awaited by Newport residents, specifically those on the city’s west end who have dealt with explosions from the plant that they say have been affecting them for years.
Annette Kitchen, a resident of the Clifton Neighborhood in Newport, has been at the forefront of the case to help represent citizens affected by RMR. She told LINK nky after the bench trial date was set that she hopes Newport residents will get to speak on July 7.
“I’m encouraged with the step forward for a final trial date,” Kitchen said. “I do hope the residents will have an opportunity to speak at the bench trial to further support the city.”
Kitchen moved to the Clifton neighborhood in 2013 and said she gradually started noticing her house vibrating and shaking, but at the time, she thought it was an earthquake.
Through attending a Clifton Neighborhood Association meeting, she discovered that explosions at RMR were causing her home to rattle.
Fast forward to 2019, when the Clifton Neighborhood Association hosted RMR representatives to discuss the explosions at their meeting. Kitchen said they agreed to certain things that would help prevent explosions, such as a pre-shredding process and supervisory oversight before an item went into the hammermill, among other things. She said things went silent for about three months and then resumed.
In March 2020, Kitchen said the Clifton Neighborhood Association voted unanimously to create a volunteer citizens group to try and solve the problem.
She told LINK nky last month that residents are impacted in many ways.
“Folks have got stress, anxiety, just extreme fear of their home collapsing because a lot of these homes are extremely old,” Kitchen said. “Residents have reported the foundation’s crumbling. Residents have reported their ceiling falling immediately from being the bullseye target of an explosion. We’ve got homes physically shaking; people working from home have reported their computer monitors shaking. We have had animals frightened, scared.”
A review of the case was held on May 30 to address an issue raised by representatives for RMR at a March 31 status hearing.
During the status hearing, RMR said they were not allowed to dispute whom the city hired to measure the sound decibel. Blau allowed them to hire their own expert for sound monitoring, which was the discussion topic at the review.
The attorney representing RMR said their expert gave them a written summary, but it was “pretty technical,” and they asked for more time for the summary. Blau set a review of that information for June 29 at 9 a.m. but said he wanted a trial date set to “put a nail in these three cases one way or another.”
“I believe the judge will be shocked to hear what we have been subjected to by this tenant—RMR, Nucor for all these years,” Kitchen said.