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Justin Wan, The Weekender 

Sgt. Brew Grill & Pub's combination pizza comes with a multitude of ingredients. Other pizzas include the taco, Alfredo and bacon cheeseburger pizza.

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Harvesting the bounty
GALLAGHER: Soybean harvest starts to 'pop,' pun intended


PIERSON, Iowa -- Roy and Andrew Linn stepped into a soybean field not far from the Little Sioux River Valley in eastern Woodbury County on Tuesday morning.

They didn't like what greeted them.

"Pods are opening," Andrew said. "We need to get these beans out of the fields."

With so much rain, a dash of snow on Sunday and downright frigid temperatures this month, beans took on moisture and expanded, some popping from the pod. Andrew handed me a soybean to chew.

"Gummy, isn't it?" he asked.


"If it bites like a Gummy Bear, soft and gummy, that isn't good. We can't combine these soybeans until they dry," he said. "When you take your fingers and snap pods, they should open, which tells you the combine can open them. We can't do that now.

"We really need sunshine and some heat units for these fields," he concluded.

Across Siouxland, corn and soybean growers face weather-related issues as Mother Nature pushes the 2018 harvest off to a soggy, uneven start. The USDA's latest harvest projections show just 19 percent of the Iowa soybean crop harvested, the smallest percentage harvested by Oct. 14 since such record-keeping began. The soybean harvest, which is running 11 days behind, has seen 51 percent of the crop get to the bin by this time as an average the past five years.

Meantime, 17 percent of the corn crop has been harvested, lagging behind its 5-year average of 24 percent. This year's crop trails the harvest average by four days.

Iowa State Climatologist Dr. Justin Glisan reports that last week brought up to four inches or above precipitation to Iowa. Average temperatures were also cooler than expected, up to 10 degrees cooler than normal in this corner of the state. The coldest spots in Iowa last week were at Sheldon and Sanborn, both of which dipped to 24 degrees.

Additionally, strong winds welcomed a cold front early in the week and may have damaged some of Linn's corn, a crop whose stalks have been weakened with excess moisture this season. Moving up the plant, one finds small areas of mold at the tips of select ears.

"Mold is more of a problem where the ears are standing up because the moisture has gotten in to the ear," Andrew Linn said. "For the ears hanging down, the shuck deflects the water."

The Linns checked both corn and soybeans on Tuesday morning before combining corn, a crop that, despite challenges, seems sizeable. "This looks good," Roy Linn said as he pulled and examined two ears in a field north of Correctionville, Iowa. His early inspection mirrored Iowa reporting that showed 69 percent of the corn crop rated good to excellent.

The pace worried Andrew Linn as a portion of his family's soybean crop may burst from the pod before the combine reaches the waterlogged fields. The phenomenon frustrated a grower who brought this crop, one rated 65 percent good to excellent across Iowa, almost all the way home.

"We need to get a couple of weeks of this kind of weather," said Paul Kassel, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist who checked his watch to see a 60-degree air temperature reading, warmer than forecasters predict for Tuesday. "The sun is out, the wind is blowing. We need every minute of this."

Kassel, who is based in Spencer, heard isolated reports of pods popping. He also fielded reports of chewy beans and rubbery pods, both of which must dry.

Corn fields must also dry, as some areas in northern Siouxland haven taken on as much as 12 inches of rain since September.

"The season kind of reminds me of 1993," Kassel said, thinking back 25 years to the great Iowa flood. "There are areas west of Bancroft, northeast of Emmetsburg and north of Cylinder that never did get planted. The difference between this year and 1993 was that we were a lot warmer this year. We had a warm growing season that helped us out."

Kassel believes yields could be strong, save for areas that couldn't escape a cycle of rain. Fields in those wet spots may see 140-bushel corn. "And that doesn't pay the bills very well," he said.

Back near Pierson, Andrew and Roy Linn got their John Deere moving north, then east and eventually into a field of corn, which they'll pick until soybeans have dried enough, maybe two or three days from now. Hopefully, they'll still have most of the beans in their pods, not scattered atop the soggy soil.

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Lawsuit seeks damages from Big Ox for South Sioux man's death

SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- A South Sioux City homeowner has claimed in a lawsuit that Big Ox Energy is partially responsible for complications that led to her husband's death.

Carol Baker is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for the death of her husband, Robert Baker Sr., more than $20,000 in damages for his medical care and attention, and at least $80,000 to replace household items she said were ruined by odors and gases from the biofuels plant.

Baker, 74, died Dec. 29, 2016, more than two months after he and Carol Baker were forced to flee their home at 3826 G St.  after their home became uninhabitable because of the odors.

Big Ox reimbursed the city for hotel stays for the Bakers and other neighborhood residents displaced from their home. Robert Baker Sr., who used a wheelchair and a walker, was injured in a fall at the hotel. His injuries led to complications that caused his death, the lawsuit said.

Gases and odors that entered the Bakers' home through a sewer line the residential neighborhood shared with the industrial park, made them sick and forced them to leave, the suit said. Baker alleges that Big Ox knew the plant was causing hydrogen sulfate and other toxic gases to be released into the sewer system.

Baker is suing Big Ox Energy -- Siouxland and its parent company Big Ox Energy for negligence, nuisance and liability. 

The lawsuit is the 16th filed in Dakota County District Court by homeowners who lived near the plant and claim the gases damaged their homes and caused health problems soon after the plant began operations in September 2016.

Those lawsuits, which also name the city as a defendant, 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 toxic gases. Many of the homeowners have complained of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, headaches, nausea, anxiety and emotional distress.

Baker's suit does not name the city as a defendant.

The lawsuits allege that Big Ox and the city knew or should have known that after testing the plant's operations prior to its opening that the city's sewer system would be unable to handle the pressures and waste 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. Company officials did not immediately return messages from the Journal seeking comment on Tuesday.

Damages being sought in the lawsuits total about $7.4 million. That total could increase if homes are razed and rebuilt because they can not be repaired.

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.

A month after the plant went online, nearby residents began reporting odors and that 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 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.

Big Ox has been cited by state regulators for failing to control hydrogen sulfide emissions, properly operate and maintain anaerobic digesters, control dust from leaving the property and submit proper notifications. Big Ox agreed to use measures to cease the discharges, repair equipment and decrease the risk of future upsets.

The city of Sioux City earlier this summer cited Big Ox for multiple violations of its permit to discharge sewage into the city's regional wastewater plant and fined the plant $3,500 for exceeding its discharge limits and failing to report all of its daily flows into the treatment plant.

Moville looks to increased Highway 20 traffic to add business prospects

SIOUX CITY -- Moville, Iowa, city officials are hoping to land more businesses along a frontage road that will soon be in eye shot of increasing traffic moving along U.S. Highway 20.

The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a step that could allow the city of Moville to set a new urban renewal district.

City officials want to promote economic development options along the frontage road that lies on the city's south side, running parallel with Hwy. 20.

The proposal says the city "expects to make numerous infrastructure improvements to Frontage Road between Second Street and Fair Street from 2018 to 2025." Those costs, capped at $2 million, would include street paving, replacing the sanitary sewer system and other work "to support additional commercial traffic in the area and make the area an attractive location for businesses to locate and operate."

The frontage road is actually a permutation of the original routing of Highway 20, before it was subsequently relocated just to the south. It had many businesses decades ago, before most died out. However, a rebirth is taking place on the frontage road, as Moville transitions from its traditional business district in the two blocks of downtown.

Since July 2016, a Lewis Drug pharmacy, Dollar General store, Movillatte coffee shop and funeral home have opened on the frontage road. The city's only grocery store also was located along the road before closing on March 1.

"We have a lot of things going on," Moville Mayor Jim Fisher said.

Previously, Fisher asked the county to work to combine to fund improvements to the aging frontage road. Now, city officials are mulling creation of the urban renewal area, County Community & Economic Development Department Director David Gleiser explained.

Gleiser said that step required a county supervisors vote because some of the frontage road is owned by the county. They voted 5-0 to consent to the Moville Frontage Road Urban Renewal Plan.

"It shows a lot of proactivity," Supervisor Jeremy Taylor said.

On Friday, state and local officials will gather in Holstein, 28 miles east of Moville, to hold a ribbon-cutting for the completion of widening to four lanes the last 40 miles of two-lane highway from Early to Moville. The project has created an expressway across the state from Sioux City to Dubuque.

Fisher said he wants Moville to capitalize on the heightened number of travelers who will now move past the city of 1,613.

The Frontage Road Urban Renewal Plan says the primary goal "is to stimulate, through public involvement and commitment, private investment in new commercial and industrial development." 

If the renewal plan is adopted, it would enable the use of tax increment financing, where expected future gains in property taxes are used to finance improvements.

Gleiser said the City Council, in closed sessions, has been discussing some confidential development options.

Jean James / Picasa 

Robert Baker Sr.