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Juhl: We are not going to let this drop

Community members confront Farmers Union Ind. officials about odor and spillage from Central Bi-Products rendering plant

July 22, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

Thursday morning, well over 100 people gathered at the SERT building on the campus of Iowa Lakes Community College for a special meeting of the Emmet County Board of Supervisors to hear what Farmer's Union Industries, parent company to Central Bi-Products, had to say about odor, air quality, and spillage of animals and parts from its trucks.

Bev Juhl, supervisors chair, said, "The board intends to proceed with actions. We're not just going to let it go. At this point, shutdown looks like the only option. It won't be dropped."

Supervisor Jeff Quastad told Dan Hildebrandt, CEO of Farmers Union Industries, "I hope you pick up the ball. The operation should be shut down. We've always been told it will get better, but it never gets that great. It needs to be dealt with now."

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Hildebrandt said, "I do care. That's why I'm here. If I didn't care, I wouldn't have shown up. I had not heard until I read the paper how many complaints had come in. I'm hearing that the issues are housekeeping and odor control. We will deal with those issues."

Hildebrandt added, "The air is changed in that facility every seven minutes. It's going to be a big [scrubber] system."

The new building is on tap to be ready to move trucks inside Sept. 1, Hildebrandt said.

Supervisor Tim Schumacher said, "We want to find answers. We want a great way of life in this community."

Schumacher said it was understandable to have issues perhaps five percent of the time, but said that the problem had reached perhaps 15 days of the month.

"It's easy for one side to sit there and say, 'You know what? We don't like the odor. Let's end it. Let's shut it down. But the answer's not that easy. We've already seen the impact of that at Graettinger at the landfill. They're taking extra steps to handle the dead livestock that's down there now. That's not going to fix the issue, nor is it going to fix the way agriculture is done nowadays. It's far different from what it was 40 years ago. We want to be tolerant of what we're dealing with; we want to work together to find a solution that's amenable to everybody, and we know we're not there yet, and that's why we're here right now," Schumacher said.

County Attorney Doug Hansen asked if Hildebrandt had considered shutting the facility down while improvements were in progress.

"Well, I could consider shutting it down. There's going to be quite a bit of impact on producers in the area as well as the harvest facilities. Redwood Farms would also have to shut down because they would have no place to go with the raw materials at that point, so it would be a major, major impact," Hildebrandt said.

Hansen said, "Your conditional use permit says among other things that you will make all reasonable effort to control odor. It doesn't say you're going to use all reasonable effort to make a profit. So, what's reasonable? Is it reasonable to continue operating when you know the scrubber system is undersized, we have raw material sitting out there, we have doors that should be closed that aren't closed. Reasonable effort to me means to shut the thing down until we get everything in order."

Hildebrandt said, "We're going to try to eliminate [the odor]. The larger scrubbers are being built. They're built on order. It's not a matter of going into Menard's and picking up a scrubber. As far as shutting down, I mean I could consult with our board and maybe it's one of those deals whereI can't answer that question today. I will have our attorney consult with you on that question."

Quastad said, "We've had problems over the years, even to when Doug [Skinner] owned it. He's going to fix this and he's going to fix that. It always helps a little, but it never negates the whole pain. After a while, people get fed up. We [board of supervisors members] take the wrath of it constantly, because we're their link to the problems in our communityfor the last two months it seems like somebody dropped the ball and it just got kicked out the door. Things have gone from bad to worse, and I need you to answer, 'Why has it gotten this bad?'"

Hildebrandt said, "Farmer's Union Industries is a lot better company than that."

Hildebrandt said after 40 years in the business, his worst fear in rendering has been to spill along the road and have odors the public smellswe sure didn't have the intent to diminish the quality of life in Estherville, Iowa. Our intent was to build this company, so we could attract good workers to come and work with us and grow and grow and grow."

Fire chief Richard Beaver said the June 1 fire at Central Bi-Products was one of his worst nightmares as fire chief. "We went out to the facility to fight the fire, and we got it taken care of while we were there."

Beaver said, "That is absolutely the worst crap we've ever driven a fire truck through and we're still trying to get hoses and gear cleaned up from that mess. I believe it's totally unacceptableI never figured I'd drive in there and see body parts lying all over the ground that we have to drive through and work through, and that's what that was."

Beaver said, "This is something that should be addressed every day and all of it; not just when somebody starts complaining."

Mitch Eveleth stated he was concerned that neither Hildebrandt nor Chief Operations Officer took any notes during the meeting.

"I would feel more comfortable that these concerns were going somewhere if someone was writing something down and taking the concerns to heart, instead of sitting there with a blank stare. That's a concern to me. It makes me distrust the management of the facility," Eveleth said.

Bev Juhl informed Hildebrandt, "One of your trucks was parked in town at Dairy Queen. That was very offensive."

Mark Mitchell lives just north of the Central Bi-Products plant on Highway 4. "I'm not against your plant. I'm against the way you handle your business and operation."

"It's not just the air smell. It's the traffic. The day before yesterday and I could hardly sit on the lawn tractor. There were seven trucks that came within 15 or 20 minutes and it about knocked me off my lawn tractor," Mitchell said.

Mitchell also said the noise ordinance for his area is not being addressed, in relation to the jake brakes on the trucks.

"It should be shut down untilit's ready to operate at capacity," Mitchell said.

Dan Lutat said, "Failure for you is not an option. You should have descended on this town when you knew this scrubber was undersized when you opened this plant, and have every construction worker and electrical worker and dirt worker available fixing that plant. You didn't do it. So we already have the impression that you don't care about this community. If you want to fix that, and nobody wants to see jobs and services go away, one hundred jobs don't hold 6,000 people's quality of life captive just because you provide a vital service."

"If your facility is undersized, you don't take it. If your facility was substandard to begin with, you don't open your doors until you're ready to run it properly, or you locate that darn thing out where it won't be an issue; not on the edge of townfour to six months is unacceptable, and to continue operations with something you've already said is undersized is wrong." Lutat said.

Lutat said one of the number one things on Iowa Lakes Community College students' minds when they're graduating is, "'I can't wait to get away from the smell.' That's unacceptable. They come from the four corners of Iowa and the four corners of the United States, and we have an opportunity to keep them here to work and raise families, except for the failure of one company."

"If you were permitted for a certain level of operation, you should never have exceeded it," Lutat said.

Roy Gage asked for action by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Your actions speak so loudly I can't hear your words."

Gage asked Hildebrandt, "Where were you the last 40 days?"

"We are going to work really hard to try to fix this," Hildebrandt said.

"I guess what I'm hearing here is our housekeeping, our odor control, our truck traffic, our jake brakes, I apologize for thatwe need to walk the talk, that's for sure. I do care about your quality of life. I care about the quality of life in all the facilities we work in. We will work with this and like you said, we just need to eliminate a tremendous amount of raw materials. We'll take that to heart," Hildebrandt said.

Farmers Union Industries is a sponsor of Estherville Sweet Corn Days. On its Facebook page, the company has a feature called Fact Friday, an educational series about the benefits of rendering, and the useful things that can be made from bi-products.

Quastad said, "My heart feels the plant should be shut downI hope we can get it turned around and get it to the point it's a plant that runs with very little impact to the city. We can't wait. I hope you guys really do pick up the ball. I don't know what our choices are if you don't."

Juhl said, "We're not just going to let it go. We will take action with whatever the county attorney recommends."

 
 
 

 

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