Big Ox Energy

Big Ox Energy, a renewable energy plant in South Sioux City's Roth Industrial Park, and the city of South Sioux City have been sued by a 15th homeowner for odors and gases emitted by the plant.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | The stream of lawsuits against Big Ox Energy and South Sioux City has continued with a ninth homeowner filing suit in connection with odors and gases from the bioenergy plant.

Michael and Brenda Orlando filed their suit Wednesday in Dakota County District Court, bringing the total number of lawsuits filed within the past month against the company and city to nine.

The Orlandos, like the homeowners in the previous lawsuits, claim that odors and hazardous gases damaged their homes and caused health problems after the plant opened in September 2016.

The homeowners allege that Big Ox and the city failed to maintain, operate and modify wastewater treatment facilities and sewer systems to handle waste from the plant and prevent the release of hydrogen sulfate and other toxic gases. As a result, the homeowners all say, they and their children suffer from health problems including respiratory illnesses, headaches, nausea, anxiety and emotional distress.

The lawsuits allege that Big Ox and the city knew or should have known after initial tests of the plant's operations in August 2016 that the municipal sewer system would be unable to handle the pressures and substances being released into it, leading to the release of gases that escaped through manholes and into residences near the plant.

The Denmark, Wisconsin-based company has denied the allegations.

The Orlandos claim damages of $472,000 that are accruing because of the continued loss of use of their property. The damages include loss of use, demolition and reconstruction of their home and loss of furnishings ruined by odors.

Damages being sought in the other five lawsuits total some $5.62 million.

Big Ox Energy's more than $30 million plant extracts organic nutrients from animal, grain and other waste to create methane, which is sold into the natural gas pipeline. The plant went online Sept. 2, 2016, in the Roth Industrial Park.

Residents began reporting odors from the plant a month later, when sewer gas permeated some homes in a five-block area near the plant. Big Ox maintains that faulty plumbing in the homes was the primary cause of the odor issues.

The families were displaced for months because of the odors, and some have yet to return home. The city and Big Ox have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to reimburse displaced homeowners' expenses. The city has also spent $1.5 million for sewer upgrades and modifications.

More lawsuits are likely. In May, 16 families filed tort claims against the city.

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