INDIANTOWN — The Village Council here approved the major site plan March 9 for a $40 million ammunition plant on Southwest Farm Road so a Stuart-based manufacturer can expand westward and add a primer manufacturing facility to his Martin County operations.
While Council members reached a unanimous consensus early on during the quasi-judicial hearing and expressed no safety concerns, it was an entirely different scenario just a month prior with the Village’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board. That advisory group slogged through two failed votes for approval before Chairwoman Ernestine Palmer finally cast an affirmative vote as well to recommend approval 4-3. Board Member Renita Presler led the trio of dissention that night, basing her opposition on the fact that Grind Hard co-owner Austin Weiss had been quoted in a newspaper article when seeking approval for his Stuart facility as saying the more dangerous parts would be manufactured in Indiantown.”
“It just seems like things rejected from other higher-income areas are put out here,” Ms. Presler lamented during the Feb. 2 PZAB meeting. “We have a long history of this kind of thing, where anything that’s polluting or dangerous seems to be pushed out to Indiantown.”
At the onset of the latest meeting, Community and Economic Development Director Althea Jefferson provided a brief PowerPoint presentation of the Grind Hard request after Village Attorney Wade Vose read the agenda item into the record.
“The village attorney has more or less covered all of the high points in terms of its location, size and what it includes,” she said of the proposed development planned for the northern side of Southwest Farm Road near its intersection with Northwest Silver Fox Road. “It has the Light Industrial Land Use as well as zoning. This is what the storage magazine and the 26,116-square-foot storage facility looks like. The large circle you see is what they call the blast area, and they can explain in more detail.”
Ms. Jefferson acknowledged that she’d previously toured the company’s Stuart location and found it to be impressive.
“The landscaping was beautiful, [and] I was in awe,” she continued. “They have, in fact, met our landscape requirements [here], as well as the other requirements. Staff is recommending approval of this particular application.”
The blast radius she pointed out on the site plan, however, was the same aspect that had caused consternation for Ms. Presler and the other two dissenting PZAB members in February. Mr. Weiss himself followed Ms. Jefferson to the podium and played a video for Council members and the audience to show the reason the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms required that extra distance between the facility’s proposed ammunition bunkers and neighboring structures.
“What you’re watching here is the magazine under a full-load test,” he said. “These tests have to be done for the military use. It’s basically fully maxed out with weight, and that would be the material that would go inside of this magazine. So, the [blast radius] arc is actually much larger than it needs to be. As you can see, this explosion is in a very small, contained environment, and that’s the reason we’re required by the ATF to have these magazines.”
Mayor Susan Gibbs-Thomas immediately requested clarification.
“What’s a full load?” she asked.
“It’s basically the amount of the weight of the material that we use to make the primer,” Mr. Weiss explained. “Inside of that, there will be 800 pounds of this explosive material. That was almost 6,000 pounds you just watched.”
“So, a full load is 6,000 pounds?” the mayor continued.
“Yes ma’am,” the Grind Hard co-owner confirmed. “And we’re only going to have 800 pounds in there.”
At the village attorney’s request, Mr. Weiss briefly described the manufacturing process, which involves the fabrication of “small little primers” constructed of stamped copper that are filled with a paste made of an impact-sensitive chemical mixture.
“We’re making these small items in this factory,” he explained while holding one up in his fingers. “In a full run [of] 24 hours, we’re only making 33 pounds. I feel like there was a very large misconception in the last meeting, and I really wanted to clear that up.”
Councilmember Janet Hernandez admitted she had concerns about the manufacturing process until visiting the company’s existing factory in the Willoughby area of Stuart.
“I thank you for the tour because it was eye-opening,” she said. “I also think you forgot to mention that this location will be closed off to the public, which actually makes it more [secure]. No one can even access the building unless they’re authorized.”
Mr. Weiss acknowledged that his company was mandated by a handful of federal agencies to implement strict security measures.
“The main one’s the ATF, and the other one’s the Department of Defense,” he explained. “Since we’re a DOD-secured site, it has to be locked down [with] high security fencing, high-security camera systems, all monitored 24-hours. “It has to be very secure.”
For her part, Mayor Gibbs-Thomas wanted to know about potential employment opportunities for Indiantown residents.
“You mentioned something about three shifts?” she prodded.
“Yes, three shifts,” Mr. Weiss confirmed. “We’re going to be 95 to a100 jobs at full load, so about 33 a shift. The good thing is we will be training. Our starting pay is about $17. It goes up to $25 for more skilled labor and to $30 to $34 for the high-end labor guys.”
Interim Village Manager Taryn Kryzda, in turn, asked him to explain where his firm was currently getting its primers and why he and his partner decided to expand in Indiantown. Mr. Weiss insisted that the Village was the only location in Martin County that had a Light Industrial-zoned parcel large enough to meet the minimum distance of the blast radius.
“We actually linked up with a really good realtor, Dave Powers, and he said, you need to come to Indiantown,” Mr. Weiss recalled. “He found this property. We sent it off to the ATF to get pre-approval from them to make sure we would be able to get our license. Then we did a pre-approval with Council, and it worked perfectly. Right now, we’re having to import our primers out of Turkey. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of U.S. dollars leaving the United States to another country. This will bring it all back here to South Florida.”
After he concluded his presentation, a trio of public speakers urged the Council to approve the site plan, including Business Development Board President Joan Goodrich, Indiantown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donna Carmen and Martin County Currents Publisher Barbara Clowdus. Ms. Carmen also spoke of her fellow Chamber members’ tour of the Stuart factory.
“They were absolutely amazed, and I wanted to thank you again for investing in our community,” she said. “It’s the highest quality of standards I have ever seen in a facility. We embrace the opportunity that you’re bringing to our community. The reason we supported incorporation was to encourage investment.”
Ms. Clowdus concurred.
“I’d really like the Indiantown building to look just as impressive,” she said. “Don’t slack off with that $40 million you’re spending with what that building looks like.”
One of the speakers, Myrtle Green, did worry about any potential noise issues.
“I have property that adjoins it, so it’s a real concern to me if I ever want to sell my property,” she said. “I’m just concerned about the noise level associated with this facility.”
Mr. Weiss immediately responded from his seat in the front row of the Council Chambers.
“There’s absolutely no noise,” he said. “You will hear nothing.”
Councilman Carmine Dipaolo ultimately made the motion for approval after lauding the business owner’s plans.
“I just wanted to thank you for bringing it to Indiantown,” he said. “I don’t impress too easily, but I was very impressed with your operation [and] impressed with the people you have working there. If you can duplicate that out here, it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”
Councilwoman Hernandez seconded his motion, which then passed unanimously.
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