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It’s all up to us

October 31, 2014
Estherville News

Three weeks ago on a Friday night drive through downtown Estherville my Grandson Evan and I noted a very strong odor. Duty bound the next week I made my way to the assessor's office to make note of it on the log the county uses keep to track of these occurrences.

I was surprised when told the odor log was no longer kept and the new policy was for the individual complaining to call the offending business directly with their complaint. I was then given the number for Iowa Protein Solutions who operates the rendering plant south of town.

I made the call, talked to the plant manager, made my report. I could not however help but feel a little like the fox had been put in charge of the hen house.

The following Monday I listened with interest as questions were asked at the candidates for supervisors forum, in particular to the question asked the candidates, and I am paraphrasing: "do you think the current practice of advising those complaining of odors to directly notify the offending business is proper?"

All six candidates answered, as best as I could tell, that calling the business directly was not a good idea. I felt good about that. However I did have to wonder, why, and when, was the odor log done away with?

A search of the minutes turned up this entry dated August 12th 2014:

"Dar Lewis requested guidance on discontinuing the Emmet county odor complaint log and decision was made to discontinue log at this time."

There was no mention of a vote.

This past Monday I went again to the courthouse to inquire about the process for logging in odor complaints. I felt much better when I found out the odor log was now being replaced by a zoning violation log and that when you made your report the four most likely sources of odor in Estherville would be called. I was also told that the changes would be discussed at the supervisors meeting the next day.

Not seeing it on the agenda I showed up shortly after 9 A.M. to find the discussion in progress. I was disappointed to learn they were not going to keep records of the complaints and that no effort would be made to trace or record the origin of the odor. Chairman Madden and supervisor Tim Schumacher were adamant that no good would come of the old log. They both made the point that they were concerned the county could be sued for discrimination and also made the point that they did not feel there was enforceable law in effect that applies to the control of odor.

I have a copy of the county zoning book which was in effect when Iowa Protein solutions received their Conditional Use Permit. A quick look under the heavy industrial section shows that a rendering plant is not a permitted principal use. However under conditional uses #27 we find: "Animal rendering and hide curing".

Clearly, in order to have a rendering plant a conditional use permit was needed and this meant going to the county board of adjustment and having a vote. Now here is the catch 22, there were also performance standards spelled out in the book including #6:

"ODOR: The emission of odors generally agreed to be obnoxious to any considerable numbers of persons shall be prohibited. Observations shall be made at the property line of the establishment causing the odor. As a guide to classification of odor it shall be deemed that strong odors of putrefaction and fermentation tend to be obnoxious and that such odors as associated with baking or the roasting of nuts and coffee shall not normally be considered obnoxious within the meaning of this ordinance."

Now lets go to a newspaper article dated July 22, 2008 reporting on the zoning meeting where the conditional use permit was granted. Our county zoning director noted a number of positive aspects of the plant, "This is state of the art equipment," the director said of the plants plans for monitoring and abating odors.

Our director also told board members that county attorney Doug Hanson had indicated the conditional use permit would go with the property if it were sold. If conditions of the conditional use permit were not met, then the operation could be shut down and the citizens would have the option to sue for damages.

At this point in the meeting the paper makes note of a question asked by our then county engineer Roger Patocka who was at the meeting as a concerned citizen. I quote the paper: "Patocka asked, what would happen if there were future odors?"

Our then county zoning director responded: " We can shut them down as a nuisance. "

With that assurance the board with the exception of Mike Gage, no relative, voted to approve the conditional use permit.

I am embarrassed to say that at the time of this meeting I was unaware of the plant, it's plans, or the meeting. My first wake up call was when Rose and I noticed a strong odor of putrefaction coming in on the South breeze. One night I simply followed my nose to the rendering plant, following that I read newspaper articles and minutes of meetings and talked to people involved to piece together what had happened, what I have shared with you here today.

Once made aware of the issue the supervisors quickly approved an odor log to document the problem. Then county engineer Roger Patocka stepped up to fill the vacancy left by the retiring county zoning director. It was not always pretty but things started to change, in particular it seemed, after a Emmetsburg/ Estherville football game was hit with a heavy odor riding in on a light south breeze.

The plant installed new equipment and implemented new policies which greatly reduced the problem. I and others publicly congratulated them on their efforts.

So why the concern now? For one Roger Patocka understood how to implement procedures and policies that encouraged the rendering plant to make and maintain improvements. Dar who has stepped in to take the job is a great fellow but I don't think he has the support of the board to run a program as tightly as Roger did.

My other concern is not only the lack of a log and the documentation it provides but the seeming unwillingness on the part of the supervisors to enforce or even recognize the existing ordinance pertaining to odors they themselves voted to accept.

Assurances were given that night of July 22, 2008 by both county officials and representatives of Iowa Protein Solutions. The people to who those assurances were made represented us, the people of Emmet County.

In closing I will say I wrote this letter simply to share with you both my concerns of this situation, it's history, and the public record I can find to support my concerns. In the end the failure or success of controlling this odor which unchecked has the ability to greatly diminish our town rests not with the County Zoning Director, the Board of Supervisors or Iowa Protein Solutions. It rests with us.

I thank you for taking the time read my open letter.

Roy Gage,

Estherville

 
 
 

 

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