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Citizens group seeks a voice in odor lawsuit

December 13, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

The Emmet County Citizens Advocacy Group, Inc. filed a motion to intervene Tuesday afternoon in the case of Emmet County v. Farmers Union Industries, d/b/a Central Bi-Products.

In his motion, Emmet County Citizens Advocacy Group, Inc. attorney James Larew said the group is entitled to intervene as a right under the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. The group also filed a brief in support of its motion and declarations from nine local citizens. The group is comprised entirely of Emmet County residents who are directly affected by the air quality of the county, and who have experienced diminished quality of life because of the rendering plant odor, the group stated.

Officers of ECCAG attended a series of Emmet County supervisors meetings last month and requested to have a representative present at negotiations between the county and Farmers Union Industries, and also for a public comment period before any agreement was ratified between the parties.

Incoming county attorney Melanie Summers Bauler said that was not possible because the negotiations were taking place in a closed session between the parties and their attorneys, and adding additional parties would likely cause Farmers Union Industries to walk away from progress already accomplished between the county and the company.

In its brief, ECCAG said its motion to intervene is a modest but, "exceedingly important chapter in a larger story about how law-abiding residents, homeowners and business owners are standing up and pushing back against politically-influential corporate polluters who have inflicted increasing amounts of environmental harms upon their neighbors."

ECCAG stated the voices of local citizens are too often diminished in the processes that normally determine what entities may emit air pollutants and how much.

Roy Gage said in his declaration, "I am concerned that the present litigation filed by Emmet County against the rendering plant will not abate the smell. The litigation seeks only monetary damages in small claims court. Furthermore, the county board of supervisors shares minimal, if any information about what steps will actually be taken to ensure that the rendering plant stops emitting obnoxious odors."

Among the citizens raising their voices are: Roy and Rose Gage, Roger Patocka, former county engineer, and his wife, Rita, Randy and Jeri Colsrud, Dale Breuer, Mark and Deborah Gruwell, Howard and Pat Metzger, Mark Mitchell, and Kevin Wegner.

ECCAG stated in its brief that the county has power of enforcement against county infractions it is not using. Under Iowa Code section 331.307(9)(a)(3)-(5), after a judgment has been entered, the county may order the defendant to abate or cease the violation, authorize the county to abate or correct the violation, order the county's costs for abatement become a judgment against the defendant or asses it against the property or both.

For subsequent violations, the defendant may be charged with contempt.

ECCAG further stated its ability to protect its interests in quality of life, property value, and retaining the viability of Estherville and Emmet County will be impaired by the outcome of the litigation, and are not adequately represented by Emmet County.

ECCAG stated the county's action against Farmers Union Industries does not suggest a goal of abating the source of the odors, but simply seeks monetary damages for odors that already occurred in the summer of 2018.

The nine citizen declarations provided "real-life accounts and perspective, and a necessary and previously unheard element to this case," ECCAG stated.

The group stated in its brief that permitting ECCAG to intervene would be in the public interest.

Randy Colsrud: "The odor became so bad that we had to install an Ultra Violet Purification (UVP) system in our air duct system at our primary business office." Colsrud added, "Numerous customers at our primary business office have asked my wife and me how we are able to tolerate the stench. We have also observed animal parts, blood and fluids not only on the rendering plant's grounds, but also on Highway 4. There have been occasions where our business work vehicles have been splattered with animal blood and fluids"

Howard Metzgar: "The odor has disrupted our lives. My wife and I avoid opening the windows of our house or sitting outside, and we are unable to enjoy outdoor activities and shopping in town."

Mark Mitchell: "Prior to the operating of the rendering plant, we were able to enjoy our residence without the use of air conditioning, even though my wife suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD. However, because of the stench from the rendering plant, we had to install window air conditioning units in our residence. Even then, the small from the rendering plant permeates our home and makes life inside, especially during mealtime, unenjoyable."

Kevin Wegner: "On numerous occasions, I have experienced an offensive and obnoxious odor at my residence and while participating in outdoor activities such as biking, grilling, and sporting events in the communityas an official who officiates several of these outdoor sporting events, I have not only personally experienced and observed the disrupting nature of the smell, but I have also received complaints from participants, parents, and fans."

Deborah Gruwell: "On some occasions during outside recess, my elementary students and I have smelled the odor from the rendering plant. The students typically say something along the lines of, 'Eww! What's the smell?' I've also observed students cover their noses when the odor was present during outside recess."

Dan Hildebrandt, CEO/President of Farmers Union Industries, said in a Nov. 14 statement, "Last summer's problems were caused by an equipment failure that the experts did not readily detect. That won't happen again. With hundreds of thousands of dollars we have spent to further control any odors, we are committed to being a good long-term citizen of your community."

Hildebrandt at the time said after a full evaluation of the company's processes and significant changes and investments recommended by odor experts, that similar odor incidents should be mitigated.

The changes the company says it has already implemented include: parking vehicles bringing in stock off site, enclosing the entire area where stock is deposited, reducing the handling of stock, purchasing a new air scrubber, making sure doors stay closed to ensure odor does not leave before it is scrubbed, and reducing the dead stock collection to only producers in Emmet County.

"The results have been significant in that odor has been greatly reduced if not eliminated," Hildebrandt stated.

The Emmet County Assessor's office has logged the following odor complaints since Hildebrandt's statement dated Nov. 14.

Nov. 14: 11:06 a.m. Stall's Subway

Nov. 15: 6:25 a.m. RWC

Nov. 16: 12:15 p.m. Hwy 4 Storage

Nov. 23 all day 1609 Central Ave.

Nov. 23 3:30 p.m. no location given

Nov. 23 2 p.m. Jensen Furniture

Nov. 26 11:52 a.m. Hwy 4 near rendering plant

Dec. 3-6 in the morning each day: Hwy 4 Storage

Dec. 10 4:10 p.m. 814 Central Ave.



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