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Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

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Snow-making in full force at Cone Park as city prepares for opening

SIOUX CITY | With laser lights flashing, music blasting and snow-making machines running in full force, Sioux City gave a crowd of attendees their first glimpse of several features of the brand-new Cone Park during a preview party Tuesday evening. 


The all-seasons park, which will feature tubing and ice skating in the winter and a splash pad and multi-use trail in the summer, will open the week of Dec. 18. The city has yet to set an official opening date. 

Dozens gathered in the park's day lodge as Parks and Recreation director Matt Salvatore and Cone Park Committee co-chairperson Virginia Anderson detailed the years-long journey to bring the park to fruition and thanked the many donors who have participated in the project. 

Large donors will be among the first group to slide down the tubing hill at a yet-to-be-set grand opening later this month. 

"Just to clarify, nobody will be going down the tubing hill tonight," Salvatore joked to those in attendance Tuesday. "We're not quite ready yet." 

Salvatore said the snow guns at the tubing hill site fired up Monday night and will continue this week to form a base of snow on the hill. Once the park opens, tubers will be able to enjoy the hill in four-hour sessions, with admission ranging from $7 to $10 depending on the hours. 

Tuesday night, the overhead lights in the lodge went dark to allow attendees a chance to look out the windows and preview the set of laser lights set up on the hill for the late-night "Cosmic Tubing" events.

Virginia Anderson

From 9 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, those paying $10 admission into the park can slide down the hill for the two-hour period as a multi-color LED light show plays set to music. The equipment is sponsored by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino -- Sioux City.

The day lodge will be the point of check-in and skate rentals at the park, as well as a place to purchase concessions and relax by the indoor fireplace. Anderson said the city will encourage attendees to reserve spots online before they leave to come to the park to ensure a spot, as it anticipates sellouts. 

"This facility can accommodate up to 300 people per time slot, so to guarantee your spot we ask that you put in your reservation online," she said. 

The city posted a video to social media Tuesday showing a first-person view of what a descent of the hill will look like lit by the laser lights. The video was taken during Monday's snowfall from a four-wheel-drive pickup. 

Located on a spacious field east of Sioux City's IBP Ice Center parking lot, Cone Park will feature a tubing hill, refrigerated ice skating, 2-mile trail, fire pit and the day lodge.

The park is named for the late philanthropist Ruth Cone, whose family in 1981 established a trust for a new park that has grown to $2.9 million.

Documents show 13 victims in Sioux Center sex abuse case

ORANGE CITY, Iowa | A former Sioux Center, Iowa, teacher is accused of having sexual contact with at least 13 children dating back more than three years, court documents containing the formal charges show.

Curtis Van Dam is scheduled to stand trial March 6 in Sioux County District Court on 146 charges -- 103 felonies and 43 misdemeanors -- that carry a total of 2,088 years in prison.

Trial information filed Nov. 17 by Sioux County Attorney Thomas Kunstle did not reveal the gender of the children, but alleged victims are identified by 13 sets of initials. Authorities have previously declined to say how many children were involved or their gender.

Some or all of the children were under age 12 or 13. The charges allege that Van Dam, who taught at Sioux Center Christian School, had inappropriate contact with some of them on at least two dozen separate occasions. Van Dam is charged with having sexual conduct with one of the children for two entire school years.

Van Dam, 36, remains in custody after District Judge Patrick Tott on Monday continued his bond at $150,000 at the conclusion of a bond review hearing requested by Van Dam's attorney, Edward Bjornstad, of Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Tott wrote in his order that releasing Van Dam "would jeopardize the personal safety of another person or persons." Leaving his bond at the current amount also assures Van Dam's appearance at future hearings, Tott wrote.

Van Dam on Nov. 27 entered a written plea of not guilty to 73 counts of second-degree sexual abuse, 12 counts of third-degree sexual abuse, three counts of lascivious acts with a child, 15 counts of sexual exploitation by a school employee, 37 counts of lascivious conduct with a minor and six counts of indecent exposure.

The incidents occurred during a time period from Aug. 26, 2014, through Oct. 17 of this year, court documents show.

Van Dam was arrested Oct. 23 after a complaint was filed against him for inappropriate contact with a student. As Sioux Center police investigated the complaint, they filed additional charges related to incidents with other children.

In many instances, several of the charges filed against Van Dam, who taught fifth grade at the private school, relate to several individual incidents with each child.

The 85 sexual abuse charges pertain to actions with six children. There were 24 separate instances of inappropriate contact with two of those children, many of them occurring during an overlapping time period. Another child was listed in 20 separate instances.

Those charges all simply stated that Van Dam "did commit sexual abuse" upon each child.

Van Dam is accused of lascivious conduct, legally defined as "forcing, persuading or coercing a minor to fully or partially disrobe" with six of the children listed in the court documents. He is also charged with permitting two of children to touch his genitals and exposing himself to three of the children.

Police have said the incidents took place at various locations, including the school, where Van Dam taught for nine years. School administrators removed Van Dam from the school after the first complaint was filed and later fired him.

Van Dam

Big Ox Energy will pay $50K to settle case with EPA over South Sioux City violations

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Big Ox Energy will pay nearly $50,000 as part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency this week, following an investigation into hazardous gas issues that occurred at the South Sioux City bioenergy plant late last year. 

The settlement, signed Monday, resolves alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act. Under the deal, the Denmark, Wisconsin-based company agrees to pay a $10,320 civil penalty and contribute an ambulance and hazardous materials safety equipment to the South Sioux City Fire Department worth nearly $40,000. 

The EPA specifies that releases of chemical gases from the plant's biogas production and packaging facility led to the hospitalization of an employee on Dec. 14, 2016. The worker was injured after he drilled a hole into an anaerobic digester to install a pipe and chemical gases were released.

A joint investigation by the EPA and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality found the plant was using biogas, methane and hydrogen sulfide in its processing, was emitting hydrogen sulfide from its facility and failed to identify hazards using appropriate techniques outlined in the Clean Air Act, according to a news release issued Tuesday. 

The EPA alleges that Big Ox Energy failed to identify hazards that could result from the releases of the gases using appropriate hazard assessment techniques. 

Big Ox Energy has since conducted a hazard assessment and has agreed to work with the EPA and state to prevent future chemical releases, according to the release.  

A statement from Big Ox Energy director of business and development Kevin Bradley said the company works with state and local agencies to ensure it complies with standards and avoids adverse impacts within the community. 

The EPA release says hydrogen sulfide associated with the plant also entered the city sewer system, leading to the displacement of 26 households last fall. But Bradley said the settlement does not address wastewater issues and said that the EPA has not alleged in the settlement that hydrogen sulfide gas infiltrated the homes. 

"The settlement solely arises under the Clean Air Act planning provisions as they relate to a one-time incident last year inside the Big Ox plant that has since been settled with OSHA," he said. 

He said Big Ox Energy maintains that faulty plumbing, not wastewater, was the primary cause of the odor issues in South Sioux City, citing a study that showed hydrogen sulfide had generally not entered homes that had plumbing systems in compliance with building codes. 

In the settlement, the company agrees to donate equipment worth at least $39,225 to the South Sioux City Fire Department. The designated items include a Ford 450 ambulance, a defibrillator and chest compression equipment.

This equipment will assist in emergency response to chemical accidents and environmental emergencies. Similar equipment was necessary and used during the response to the chemical release at the Big Ox facility in December 2016, according to the settlement.

By agreeing to a $10,320 civil penalty, the company avoided the potential of a much heftier fine. The maximum civil penalty for Clean Air Act violations is $45,268 per day of the violation. 

The settlement comes after Big Ox Energy received a consent order in June from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality concerning compliance with state air and water regulations.

The NDEQ in part alleged Big Ox in October 2016 had received and released wastewater into the sewage system that failed to meet pH standards and that this had "caused or materially contributed" to hydrogen sulfide formation in the sewer. The consent order did not carry financial penalties but outlined a series of improvements for Big Ox to make to its monitoring and environmental management controls.

The company also was fined more than $60,000 earlier this year after settling three citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that detailed a lack of protection, education and safety practices for employees, which at times left employees vulnerable to hazardous gases inside the facility.

Big Ox Energy's more than $30 million plant uses an anaerobic digestion process to extract organic nutrients from animal, grain and other waste to create methane. The clean-burning fuel is then sold into the natural gas pipeline. The plant went online Sept. 2, 2016 in the Roth Industrial Park.

Residents began reporting putrid odors from the plant in mid-October when sewer gas permeated some homes in a five-block area of Red Bird Lane and Le Mesa Way, along 39th Street, both indoors and outdoors.

Many residents blamed the plant for causing the issues in the line the residents and the plant, at the time, shared.

In May, 16 families and one business filed political subdivision tort claims against the city, detailing $35 million in alleged property damages and personal injuries resulting from exposure to the potentially-deadly fumes.

After filing a tort claim, residents must wait at least six months to file a lawsuit against the city, under state law. The tort claims say Big Ox Energy also will be the subject of future legal action.