A Ramsey County judge has ordered a key portion of a north Minneapolis metal recycling company to cease operations by the end of the workweek because of pollution concerns from the plant along the Mississippi River.

Judge John Guthmann's order issued Monday directs Northern Metal Recycling to shut down part of its metals recovery facility and an attached rain and snowshed. Those portions of buildings covered by the order cannot start up again until the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) either issues a modified air permit for the facility or the company proves to the agency that the buildings do not cause or contribute to the ongoing air quality violations in the area.

"We're still reviewing the order to understand all the details," MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said in a statement issued Wednesday, "but overall, we're pleased with the judge's decision."

So was Anna Bierbrauer, a northeast Minneapolis resident who is part of a neighborhood coalition that has organized against pollution along the upper river.

"We're celebrating the fact that we will have some relief," she said.

The order came after the MPCA asked the court for an injunction earlier this summer.

Northern Metal President Stephen Ettinger said Wednesday that the shredder continues operating and "customer service will not be interrupted."

The buildings affected by the order further separate metals and nonmetallic fluff from the shredded material. That cleaner scrap from added processing generally means better prices for metal scrappers.

As for the disputed shredder residue, Ettinger said the company "has already made significant improvements to this facility. … Plans for its additional improvements are being submitted for approval to the MPCA this week, and, upon the completion of those improvements [Northern Metal] will apply for the reopening of these operations."

Ettinger said the company is "rushing to make these final improvements" in order to "protect the potential loss of roughly 16 union jobs."

The MPCA issued an air permit that allowed the shredder to begin operating in 2009. After the machine didn't meet permit limits, the MPCA relaxed some of them in 2012. But the agency also added an air monitor next to the yard that detected elevated levels of particulates, lead and other metals. Those findings prompted the MPCA to set up another monitor in 2015.

Through investigations at the site, the MPCA said it discovered that the company was not following its permit, had not provided critical information to the MPCA during the permit process, and that it had made changes to the facility that increased emissions without the agency's approval. In response, the agency moved in May of this year to revoke the facility's permit.

"We believe that Northern Metals is a significant contributor to the ongoing air violations in north Minneapolis, and the court's decision is a great step forward for the people living in those neighborhoods," said David Thornton, the MPCA's assistant commissioner for air quality issues. "While Northern Metals has made improvements to its facility, we expect them to respect the law and comply with the judge's order."

The MPCA has said the shredder isn't airtight as the company represented, allowing potentially harmful dust to escape.

Guthmann allowed the shredder to keep running, but ordered the firm and the state to agree on a long-disputed testing plan for the shredders' pollution control efficiency by Sept. 23, or have him settle the issue.

The start-up of the shredder followed a 20-year battle over permitting that played out in City Hall, the courts and the Legislature. Opponents feared dust containing heavy metals would waft over the river and into nearby neighborhoods; the company said it was installing the best available pollution controls in its shredder.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482