SOUTH SIOUX CITY | A 10th lawsuit has been filed against Big Ox Energy and South Sioux City, the latest in a string of homeowners who claim that odors and gases from the plant damaged their homes and health.
More lawsuits are likely because 16 families filed tort claims against the city in May. The 10 lawsuits have been filed in the past 30 days.
Rick Heuertz became the latest on Thursday, when his suit was filed in Dakota County District Court. Like homeowners in the previous lawsuits, Heuertz claims he suffered property damage and began experiencing health problems after Big Ox opened in September 2016.
All 10 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.
Heuertz is seeking $330,800 in damages. His house remains uninhabitable, he said in the suit, and the damages cover displacement costs, loss of use of the house, repair costs and loss of furnishings ruined by odors.
Damages being sought in the other lawsuits total about $6.1 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.