SIBLEY, Iowa -- The owner of a processing and manufacturing plant claims the city of Sibley has issued it dozens of citations for violating an odor ordinance the owner says is vague and has been arbitrarily enforced against the company, costing it millions of dollars and interfering with its efforts to sell the plant.
Iowa Drying & Processing has asked a federal judge to declare the city's odor ordinance unconstitutional because it doesn't contain objective measurable standards that many states and municipalities include in similar ordinances. Instead, IDP said, the determination of "noxious exhalations, offensive smells or other annoyances" is left up to the sensitivities of law enforcement officials.
IDP says the city has arbitrarily enforced the ordinance against the plant and no one else and has made several unannounced inspections, going so far as to issue citations when the plant wasn't operating. In one instance, IDP claims, an Osceola County Sheriff's deputy issued a citation for a burning smell that the company insisted was coming from outside of town. The deputy issued the plant a citation anyway, saying "Well, I smell something."
The city's enforcement of the ordinance has crippled the company's ability to operate the plant, IDP says, causing more than $3.5 million in damages because it has had to change to less profitable business practices that have resulted in layoffs and 2017 revenues that were approximately 68 percent less than 2015 revenues, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.
City residents began complaining about foul odors from the plant, a multi-purpose facility that dries products, including animal byproducts, and blends them into products that serve a variety of industries, including pet and livestock food manufacturers, soon after it was opened in 2013 by ChemSol, a Minnetonka, Minnesota, chemical manufacturer and supplier.
ChemSol and IDP are under the umbrella of North Central Companies, of Minnetonka. ChemSol owned the Sibley plant, previously occupied by Associated Milk Producers Inc., until transferring it to IDP, which had operated the plant under a lease with ChemSol until acquiring it this past April.
Online court records show that since July 2015, the city has issued at least 45 citations totaling $42,850 in fines to IDP. The last one was issued in September, showing that the plant is capable of operating without creating unpleasant odors, city administrator Glenn Anderson said.
"They've stopped doing the worst of the worst, which has been a positive," Anderson said. "Hopefully it continues to be like this and not smell as much."
Anderson said IDP still owes about $14,000 in fines.
The plant is currently listed for sale on a real estate website for $4.75 million. IDP says the city has intentionally interfered with its efforts to sell the 160,000-square-foot plant, resulting in offers that have been a fraction of what the company invested in the plant.
A company official did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The city and IDP are no strangers in court. The city in 2016 sought to create a $50,000 escrow fund, funded by IDP, to retain an engineer to study the odors and recommend solutions and plant upgrades. IDP objected to funding the arrangement, and when it did not comply, the city filed a lawsuit, which was later dismissed.
The plant had 26 full-time employees in 2016. It was expected to bring 30 or more jobs to Sibley as part of an agreement with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which pledged $150,000 in incentives to IDP.
Company officials have said that the company met with city and economic development leaders before buying the plant to inform them of their manufacturing processes and the types of processes it handles.