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‘It’ll take your breath away’: Sibley wins case against IDP for offensive smell

SIBLEY, Iowa -- More than a year ago, the Daily Globe reported that Sibley's Iowa Drying & Processing (IDP) had told the Sibley City Council it would work on reducing the smell the plant produces -- an odor offensive to many city property own...

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Shown is a map of Sibley, Iowa. Green indicates businesses that have filed complaints against Iowa Drying and Processing (yellow) for the smell. Roberta Fultz/Daily Globe

SIBLEY, Iowa - More than a year ago, the Daily Globe reported that Sibley’s Iowa Drying & Processing (IDP) had told the Sibley City Council it would work on reducing the smell the plant produces - an odor offensive to many city property owners and visitors alike. 

On Monday morning, representatives for the city sat in Osceola County District Court to offer testimony on 10 of the 18 different citations the plant has received for environmental violations since July of last year. The defendant, IDP, was a no-show.
In addition to the plaintiff in the case, more than 40 concerned citizens filled the courtroom gallery to learn if any relief was in sight. The first two witnesses for the plaintiffs were deputies with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputy Scott Gries and Chief Deputy Kevin Wollmuth testified they’d received a minimum of three complaints from citizens before investigating the odor themselves prior to issuing a citation. Wollmuth said the smell varies from a “foul, dead smell” to a “burnt material smell,”adding that he could even smell the odor from his garage one morning before leaving for work.
Gries concurred with Wollmuth’s assessment of the situation.
“Every day I wrote a citation you could hardly breathe,” Gries testified.
“If you take a deep breath or breathe in, it’ll take your breath away,” he added.
The smell has not just impacted private citizens. Several business owners and employees testified Monday that it’s affecting their commerce.
Sibley Super Foods owner Darrel Schaff said he experiences the smell or customers complaining about it around four times a week. The smell enters the grocery store every time the door opens. Schaff said he’s noticed reduced sales and has had employees get nauseous due to the stench, and added that he’s witnessed people holding their noses or even placing their arms over their faces to block the smell while being outdoors on bad days.
“It’s hurting our business, our property values - and not just my business, all of the businesses downtown,” Schaff testified.
Karl Bormann, CEO of Sibley State Bank, said the smell has been offensive to him personally as well as customers of the bank. Bormann said he believes people may begin associating the smell with their experience of coming to the bank. Bormann added that the smell can be tasted, likening it to experiencing acid reflux.
“To the point, when it’s really bad… you can gag and throw up,” Bormann said, describing the smell.
Bormann said he used to enjoy the smell outside, particularly from nearby Shaughnessy’s Bakery as he stepped out of his car in the morning to go into the bank. Now, it is a race to get inside.
“I can get from the vehicle to the bank holding my breath,” Bormann shared.
Bormann said he waited to start formally complaining to allow IDP to make good on the promises it had made to the city and for the city to take care of the problem. In November 2015, he’d had enough.

Bormann said he began asking the city to do anything within the its ability to “bring IDP to the point they’d be a good corporate citizen.” In addition to being a nuisance, Bormann expressed concern over how it is affecting morale in Sibley and how it will impact future growth.
“To see it wear everybody down .. is unacceptable,” Bormann said. “... This is something this community cannot endure moving forward.”
Bormann asked Magistrate Fred Year to take into account the number of people who attended the hearing in how serious the issue is to the community. He noted that the number was “just a fraction” of the people affected by the nuisance.
“There’s no one who feels this kind of abuse from a respiratory perspective is acceptable,” Bormann stated.
Julie Ackerman, owner of Porch on Main, said the smell has affected her business, particularly  in the summer. Ackerman’s enterprise offers a year-round ice cream parlor, but understandably, the ice cream is exceptionally popular in the summer months. However, Ackerman said customers can not sit at outdoor tables to enjoy their ice cream due to the smell.
Ackerman said the smell is experienced three to four times a week, and people are complaining all the time.
“We shouldn’t have to put up with it,” Ackerman said.
While Ackerman couldn’t say if it has affected her business directly, she did express concern that people may not use the city’s recreational trail or pool due to the odor.
“We can’t keep going with this smell,” Ackerman added.
Stacy Grunnow, an employee at Osceola Community Hospital and Sibley Super Foods, lives a half-block from IDP and said the smell has affected her Mom’s health and her quality of life. Grunnow said the family cannot go outside or open their house up when the smell is particularly foul. In addition to smelling the “rotten” odor at home, she added, she’s also experienced it at both of her places of employment.
“(The smell) literally stops your breathing,” Grunnow testified.
Grunnow noted that she has also noticed a greasy residue on her truck when it has been parked outside. While she said she couldn’t directly attribute it to IDP, it had never occurred prior to its operation.
“(I) hope to see something done,” Grunnow said. “... I hate to see jobs lost, but we can’t live like this, either.”
Rick Echter, proprietor of Echter’s Greenhouse - located close to IDP - has also experienced the smell. Echter said employees in the greenhouse have been nauseous, had headaches and some have even had to leave for a while.
Sibley City Attorney Harold Dawson said the city had been “trying to work with Iowa Drying and Processing to alleviate the problem.” Dawson said the first citation sent to IDP was only for $50 plus court costs. Since then, the city has raised the rate for an infraction of the city’s nuisance ordinance to $750 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
Dawson noted that while IDP was not cited every single day, the problem “has never stopped.” He also said the city’s citation considers each day the nuisance remains an additional infraction. Dawson said 187 days had passed since the first $50 citation and the first $750 infraction IDP received this past January. By the city’s ordinance, IDP could have been responsible for $200 fines for each of those days.
Dawson said the city wasn’t required to keep issuing more citations - the problem should have been remedied after the first, but that did not happen. By his count, had IDP paid fines for every day it violated the city code, the total would have been more than $90,000.
“There has to be a strong message sent here,” Dawson said.
Year said that while normally he liked to take matters under advisement before issuing a ruling, this case did not need one.
“(I am) disappointed at the lack of attendance or any communication (by IDP),” Year said. “I can take that as a confirmation as an attitude of not caring.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Year said. “... (This is a) problem of a magnitude that deserves action.”
Year ruled in favor of the city for the amount of each civil penalty plus court costs. Year also added 2.54-percent interest from the date of filing on each penalty. IDP will have to pay $9,800 in civil penalties plus court costs and interest.
“That’s all I think I really need to say about that,” Year said following his ruling.
As of Monday, there were seven more outstanding citations against IDP totaling $7,000. An attempt to reach Iowa Drying and Processing for comment was not returned.

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