SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Another lawsuit has been filed against Big Ox Energy and South Sioux City, the 11th brought by homeowners who claim that odors and gases from the renewable energy plant damaged their homes and health.
Juan and Maribel Campos filed the latest suit Friday in Dakota County District Court. Like homeowners in the previous lawsuits, they claim that they and their children suffered property damage and began experiencing health problems after Big Ox fired up its plant in September 2016.
All 11 lawsuits 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. Health problems suffered by homeowners and their families include 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. Its attorney, Dan Ketcham, of Omaha, has filed a request in six of the cases for an extension of time to answer the complaints and respond to discovery requests.
More lawsuits are likely because 16 families filed tort claims against the city in May. The lawsuits have been filed periodically since Nov. 29.
Juan and Maribel Campos are seeking $235,600 in damages for loss of the use of their home for two months, displacement costs during that time, repair costs and loss of furnishings ruined by odors.
Damages being sought in the other lawsuits total about $6.4 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.
Nearby 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 city and Big Ox have previously paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to reimburse homeowners for living expenses since they were displaced. The city has also spent $1.5 million for sewer upgrades and modifications.