‘Glass mountain’: beautiful or dangerous?

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By Meaghan Downs

A meth lab burned down.
Firefighters set the fire to practice for future blazes in the industrial park.
Tim Hostetler, the operations manager at Dlubak Glass Co., in Lawrenceburg, has heard both rumors as the reasons behind the recycling plant’s massive fire May 3.
He’s heard other descriptions of “glass mountain” in the past 12 years he’s worked for the Dlubak Glass Co.:
And especially this conversation topic:
What will happen if a tornado ripped through glass mountain?
The same question popped into my mind as I drove by the glass pile on Industry Road a few months ago, the tall broken glass “mountain” winking in the afternoon sun like so many blue-green jewels.
Beautiful and terrifying, all at once.
The question of a Glassnado vs. the city of Lawrenceburg is one that many residents have probably asked for years.  
After last month’s fire that consumed Dlubak’s pile of recycled windshield coating, it’s a question that was unsurprisingly re-introduced into community conversation, into a letter to the editor on our opinion page and onto the meeting agenda of a recent city council work session.
The question is annoying, Hostetler told me in a follow-up phone interview last Friday, because he’s heard it at least 100 times, whenever the subject of tornadoes comes up.
A second grader could answer that question, Hostetler said.
It would be a disaster, because tornadoes are disasters.
“It becomes a silly question after a while,” he said. “I try to answer it gracefully.”
“It [tornado and glass mountain] gives them something to talk about.”
Hostetler said he didn’t want to come off as unconcerned about the glass pile’s dangers, but a tornado spraying glass around Lawrenceburg would be just as catastrophic as a tornado spewing rocks, throwing cars, or flattening Copart USA and downtown.
Hostetler spoke about the recent Moore, Okla., devastation as an example of the indiscriminate and destructive nature of a tornado, regardless of what was in its path.
Even if that included Dlubak’s five-story tall mountain of glass.
“There’s plenty of hazards,” Hostetler said, adding that there are plenty of cars and other chemicals stored at the industrial park. “Tornado’s not just going to let those sit. A tornado is a catastrophic event. It’s an act of God, there’s not much anything we can do about it.”
That’s why Hostetler said he’s never considered storing the glass in a building as council member Bobby Durr suggested during last Thursday’s work session.
One, the building of that size would be financially impossible, Hostetler said.
The Lawrenceburg glass recycling company ships roughly 2,500 tons of glass a month, Hostetler said. One customer receives 500 tons a week, and Dlubak usually receives glass faster than they can recycle it.
Two, a building could do nothing to shield the glass from being picked up by a powerful tornado.
Twin glass piles exist in other Dlubak Glass Co. recycling plants in other states: Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Pennsylvania.
He said he’s sure that there have been similar complaints in other locations, since Hostetler, a Lawrenceburg resident himself, mainly hears about the glass mountain in Lawrenceburg.
He’ll admit it: glass mountain is an eyesore.
In Hostetler’s eyes, glass on the ground is money on the ground.
Companies with ties to the housing industry buy much of the glass Hostetler purchases from Kentucky automotive companies, GE facilities and even Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace Distilleries.
He’s pursuing new contracts with companies like one out of Texas that makes glass road beads, but his customer base has dwindled.
“I don’t want to see piles of glass, I pay for all that glass,” he said. “That’s all at cost, if I’m not selling it, I have no income.”
The glass piles up as much as it does, Hostetler said, for two reasons:
First, because there are fewer companies wanting to recycle the glass to use for housing or construction projects;
Second, it’s more cost efficient to stockpile some of the glass that is more expensive to process before trucking it off to Iowa, Ohio or another customer.
Will we see glass mountain reduced to just a few broken pieces?   
Not as long as the product is coming in faster than Hostetler can purchase, recycle and ship it out.
“The main problem is the economy is way down,” he said. “Five years ago, I shipped out 4,000 tons a month to one customer. That 4,000 tons went away, but they’re still making the same number of cars, the same number of windshields.”