Something smells in South St. Paul

Residents file class action lawsuit against Sanimax

 

A group of South St. Paul residents have filed a lawsuit in federal court against an animal rendering plant in the city because of the garbage-like smell it creates.

The complaint, filed March 12 by Newmark Storms Law Office, alleges the noxious odor emanating from Sanimax USA LLC, located at 5050 Hardman Ave., “interferes with residents’ ability to use or enjoy their property.”

Sanimax collects animal hides and skins, animal and meat by-products, along with oils and grease that have been discarded, and turns them into animal feed and biofuels. 

According to a press release about the suit, the plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the nuisance created by the odors and for any negative impacts the odors have had on property values. The lawsuit also seeks to change the way Sanimax operates its facility in order to reduce, if not eliminate, the emission of odors into the surrounding community.

“Residents merely want Sanimax to be a better neighbor so that they can enjoy their homes,” Jeff Storms, an attorney representing the residents said in the press release. “People are tired of patchwork improvements that don’t really curb the odors and give them relief. They need to see something done.”

A call to Sanimax for comment was not returned.

 

On ongoing problem

Back in 2013, the South St. Paul City Council began working on implementing an ordinance that would deal with odor pollution. The ordinance called for an independent testing agency to conduct odor testing on all businesses identified in a study as being potential offensive odor producers. It also allowed for businesses to provide their own test results, but the city had to approve the testing methods.

If a business was identified as a significant odor generator, the ordinance said it would have 90 days to develop an odor abatement plan that is acceptable to the city. 

A July 2014 city council agenda packet said Sanimax still had reservations about the ordinance. An attached memorandum said the company took issue with the emphasis the ordinance placed on health, safety and welfare as a basis for regulating odor. It went on to say that odor was not a recognized threat to public health or safety.

The memorandum also said the ordinance was vague, unworkable from a practical perspective and without meaningful standards or procedural safeguards.

In a 2014 letter to the editor printed in the South-West Review, Mike Moyer, who, at the time, was the facility’s general manager, said, “Everyone’s goal is to reduce odors and we’re working hard to do so.” 

That year, Moyer said the plant was investing close to $1 million in new odor mitigation technology at the South St. Paul facility. 

Still, at the end of 2016, the city sent a letter to Sanimax that labeled the company as a significant odor generator after various tests and follow-ups. 

 

Legal back and forth

In February 2017, Sanimax filed a federal lawsuit against South St. Paul because of its odor ordinance. The suit stated that Sanimax felt the odor ordinance imposed regulatory burdens and administrative sanctions on property owners, “without prescribing any objective odor verification standards to determine whether a violation has occurred.”

It went on to say that violations of the odor ordinance depended on the notions of human responses to smells. 

The suit was looking to prevent the city from enforcing its ordinance against Sanimax because the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and enforcement would violate the company’s due process rights. The suit was eventually dismissed without prejudice.

In May 2017, the South St. Paul City Council amended its odor ordinance. The goal of the amendment was to provide an objective standard for any odor complaints received. The recommendation was to use a device called the “Nasal Ranger.” If an odor-producer received a score of seven odor units or higher on the device, then a complaint about the producer would be considered valid under the ordinance.

Patricia Keech and David Newfield are the main plaintiffs named in the latest lawsuit. The suit alleges Sanimax has a well-documented history of failing to control the smells coming from its plant. 

Roughly 80 households have contacted Storm’s office documenting the odors they attribute to the facility. The complaint also alleges that Sanimax has failed to install and maintain adequate technology to help control the emissions of noxious odors. 


 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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