SIBLEY, Iowa - Concerned citizens filled the Sibley Senior Center Monday for an abatement hearing against Iowa Drying and Processing (IDP) during the Sibley City Council meeting. In contrast to two legal proceedings in the matter, representatives from IDP were in attendance and offered a solution to the smell created by the facility.
Scott Carlson, attorney for IDP, said the city’s nuisance code regarding odors is “vague” and has offered no direction or guidance as to what IDP should do in order to come into compliance with the city’s code.
“It’s been my client’s intention to work in partnership with the city...” Carlson said. “... One of the problems we have, and I say we meaning the city and IDP… is that the city code is vague, frankly. If you look at the Iowa state statute, it considers that odors must be ‘unreasonably offensive’ to be declared a nuisance. The city code removes the word ‘unreasonably’ and just says ‘offensive.’ There’s no measurable standard as to what Iowa Drying and Processing is supposed to do.”
IDP is more than happy to comply but is “frankly without guidance,” Carlson said, stating it is impossible to tell an engineer what the company is trying to accomplish.
CFO Jim Reidy read a prepared statement on behalf of IDP.
“We sincerely apologize for the odor problem and want to assure everybody here that we have developed a plan to address the issue which was initially presented to the city in October of 2015,” Reidy read.
Reidy thanked the 26 employees who work at IDP. Reidy noted they have incurred a lot of negativity from frustrated citizens but asked those assembled to direct their frustrations at those responsible for the issue.
“Our employees are not responsible for the odor problem,” Reidy said. “They’re just doing what we, management, have asked them to do. Our employees are good people who are just trying to support themselves and their families, which I hope you can respect.”
Reidy said when IDP chose the former AMPI facility in Sibley for its operation, it did so in good faith of bringing new jobs to Sibley and life back to the building. Reidy said the company was well-received initially by the community and its leaders.
“Had we known that our operation would cause so much trouble for the community, we would not have purchased the facility,” Reidy said. “In fact, there were other sites we were looking at… but (with) the financial incentives that were presented to us and the support we received from community leaders, we decided to purchase this facility.”
Reidy explained that the smell experienced in January and February this year was due to one type of product the facility was drying - turkey digest, used in dog treats. The supplier’s plant in South Carolina was unable to process the product itself, and IDP was under contract to process the digest continuously until the supplier’s facility was running again. Reidy said IDP is under contract for one more two-week run of the product at the end of April and first week of May, but IDP had hoped to have the wet scrubber installed by then.
However, though IDP has already received a permit to install the scrubbers from Iowa DNR, Reidy said the city has added a stipulation that would require an independent engineer of the city’s choosing to assess the scrubbing system before it is implemented - at IDP’s expense. Reidy said the request “handcuffed” the company. He also said the city had changed the October agreement by setting an April 1 deadline for the scrubber to be in place.
Reidy said the scrubber will be installed as soon as an engineer approves it and a contractor is available. He said the city had been asked to postpone legal proceedings on environmental violations relating to the smell if IDP agreed to pay for the engineer. However, the legal proceedings were not postponed.
A week ago, Magistrate Fred Year entered default judgments against IDP after they did not show up in court on 10 separate citations. Sibley’s City Attorney Harold Dawson said Year entered judgments Monday morning on an additional nine citations after IDP neither provided a defense nor appeared in court.
Dawson asked Reidy if there was an odor problem that creates a nuisance. Reidy acknowledged there was an odor, but didn’t state it rose to the level of a nuisance.
“I understand people’s frustrations… if there is an odor in town and it is affecting their quality of life,” Reidy began. “As I said in my statement, I, too, would be upset, and I would hope that the company that is behind that odor would be working diligently to find a resolution to it. I will tell you that we are working tirelessly to find (a resolution) and move this process forward.
“We found this solution. We know this solution will work. … We are anxious to get started.”
Carlson objected to the questioning by Dawson and to evidence offered to the council in the form of 150 questionnaires filled in under oath. He also objected to the citations being mentioned. The lawyers exchanged questions back and forth during the informal hearing.
Reidy stepped in as the dialogue continued with an appeal to the council.
“Mr. Mayor and Council, this is part of our problem,” Reidy said. “I’m sorry, I’m a businessman. I’m not an attorney, but this is part of our problem… that we’re getting stuck in the legalese and we’re getting our lawyers involved. No offense to (Carlson), I like him, but I don’t want to work with him.
“It’s better off when we as council members and businessmen owners can come together to try to find a solution. I am here today to present to you, and I just did present to you, our plan to fix it. We have a solution that not only we’ve determined would work through a test trial but research has proven that a wet scrubbing system is the right approach to solving this problem.The DNR agrees and supports our position. We’ve made investments to install this. We’re asking you for permission to go forward and get it done.”
Dawson asked Reidy that if the scrubbers did not work six months from now, would IDP consider selling the property. Reidy replied that no option was off the table to resolve the issue.
Wade Ellerbroek spoke on how the smell has impacted local businesses and has been a deterrent for some considering moving to Sibley and asked the council to take action.
“All I’ve heard for the last three years is promises, promises, promises,” Ellerbroek said. “And I think you’ve heard it too. I think it’s time to shut down IDP unless there’s a guaranteed solution backed up with money. They’re not welcome here anymore. We can’t continue to have them here.”
Ellerbroek said he’d searched the title of the company and found four separate liens against the property for judgements with local contractors totaling $321,615.90. One contractor was paid $119,500 of that total according to Ellerbroek. That does not include the city’s 18 citations against IDP.
“They can tell us everything they wanted to do, but are they even good enough citizens to want them here?” Ellerbroek asked.
“No,” many in the crowd responded.
“I agree with you, thank you,” Ellerbroek replied. “I think they have to prove themselves. I think they need to pay these contractors. I think they have to go ahead and hire an engineer and pay him … and then see what happens. I don’t know if you can get financing. Maybe with all of those liens against you, you might have trouble getting a loan. Anyway, our quality of life is suffering. Our businesses are suffering. Our property values are beginning to drop. When the demand for housing goes away, property values decrease. When businesses lose the top 10 percent of business, their profit is gone.”
Ellerbroek said IDP’s property is contaminated by the products processed there and could no longer be used for food-grade products. Carlson asked Ellerbroek if he’d support the city buying the facility. Ellerbroek said not with it being contaminated, and the city, even if they had the money to do so, shouldn’t use the money for the purchase.
“I don’t know if the city has a million dollars to clean up your mess,” Ellerbroek said.
Carlson noted Ellerbroek is one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit against IDP. He asked if Ellerbroek stood to make money should the lawsuit be settled in his favor.
“Would I profit by that? If we found a judgment against you, yes, we probably would,” Ellerbroek replied. “There’s a dozen other businesses that have entered in, and I find no fault in trying to protect ourselves from you.”
“But you are trying to profit by it?” Carlson asked.
“I doubt, if we get a judgment from you, that you’ll ever pay it,” Ellerbroek retorted.
No formal decision was made by the council on the abatement hearing.