SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Big Ox Energy continues to work with state and federal regulators on a plan to comply with its most recent environmental violations, a company representative and regulators said.
The South Sioux City biofuels plant has submitted a draft compliance plan and is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to comply with permit requirements for a flare bypass in addition to addressing digester issues that have resulted in sludge spills at the plant.
"We have and continue to work cooperatively, collaboratively with both the EPA and NDEQ," Big Ox spokesman Kevin Bradley said. "We have every intention of following through on the schedules and the intentions we have agreed to. Discussions are continuing."
The EPA on Feb. 12 issued an administrative compliance order for Clean Air Act violations, citing the company for utilizing a flare bypass since at least September that released hydrogen sulfide, methane or other biogases into the air. It followed a November NDEQ notice of violation issued to the plant for not seeking a required permit for a flare bypass, a pipe that releases biogas that is not routed to and combusted by a flare that burns off pollutants.
"We're working with Big Ox and the EPA to get that corrected," said Kevin Stoner, an NDEQ air quality division administrator.
Stoner said the plant had excessive gases going to the flare, and it couldn't handle the amount of concentration contained in the gases. Instead, the gases were sent to the bypass to be released into the air.
The EPA notice instructed Big Ox, which converts organic waste from local industries to methane, to correct the violations and submit a plan of compliance within 30 days of the notice's Feb. 12 effective date.
Stoner said regulators have received preliminary information from Big Ox about compliance plans and have discussed plans for construction or correction.
Bradley declined to comment on what construction or plant modifications Big Ox might be considering.
The EPA notice termed a Jan. 25 digester spill at the plant an accidental release, and state regulators said the 60,000-80,000 gallons of digester materials that flowed onto the plant's grounds have been cleaned up. No citations were issued.
Big Ox was cited in June and August for sludge spills and also received a notice of violation in July and again in November for air quality violations.
The plant has been the subject of numerous odor complaints from area residents, and a class action lawsuit has been filed against the company claiming that its odors are a nuisance and the result of negligence. A total of 15 homeowners also have filed individual lawsuits against the company, claiming that toxic odors and gases backed up into their homes shortly after the plant began operations in September 2016, causing health issues and making their homes uninhabitable.
SIOUX CITY -- After an extended process that included grumbling from some elected officials and their top assistants, plus a reversal of a prior vote, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved raises ranging from 3 percent to 6 percent for the year ahead.
It took three votes to finally settle the pay rates for the nine elected officials, which includes the five county supervisors and the sheriff, attorney, auditor and treasurer.
Before the third vote on salaries, County Treasurer Mike Clayton turned to some assistants, also called deputies in the county lingo, and said, "This could go on all night."
The moves came as the supervisors officially ended a three-month process of setting a fiscal year 2019-20 budget of $58.2 million, which lowers the county's property tax levy for city residents and raises the levy for rural owners.
The discussion on the county elected officials' wages was the last piece of the budget. Iowa law holds that county official wages work through a process involving county compensation boards, which recommend raises for each year. Members of the compensation board are appointed by the elected officials, who are barred by state law from setting their own salaries.
In February, the Woodbury County Compensation Board met and passed a more complicated than normal pay recommendation, by proposing Treasurer Michael Clayton be given a $2,200 salary bump and then a 3 percent raise on top of that, meaning the total pay would grow by 5.6 percent. Additionally, the panel recommended Sheriff Dave Drew receive an additional $3,500 before calculating a 3 percent raise, which would represent a 6.4 percent increase for the sheriff.
The other recommended raises were 3 percent for the county auditor and the supervisors, and 5 percent for the county attorney.
Under state law, the supervisors had three options -- approve the recommended increases, give no raises or make reductions of the same percentage amount to all nine. Supervisor Rocky De Witt said county officials have taken lesser raises in some years, and this was the right time to approve the full comp board recommendation.
"They are not out of line. Anything less, I think is a joke," De Witt said.
That proposal was defeated on a 2-3 vote, with De Witt and Marty Pottebaum voting for it, while Supervisors Keith Radig, Matthew Ung and Jeremy Taylor voted "no."
Radig said he couldn't support such raises, and a second proposal came from Ung to reduce the comp board recommendations by 25 percent for all nine positions. That move would have dropped the combined salaries by $23,685, which Clayton and Attorney P.J. Jennings said was a minuscule amount in a large overall budget.
Clayton, Jennings, Gill and Drew also noted their top assistants, or so-called deputies, have salaries that are tied to a selected percentages of the elected official salary, and they deserved substantial raises for their work too.
Sheriff's Office Maj. Tony Wingert, who is a deputy to Drew, spoke against a lesser amount. "It tells us you don't care about us...It is a slap in the face," Wingert said.
That 25-percent proposal was defeated on a 2-3 vote, with only Ung and Radig voting for it. The meeting participants then had more discussion, with the carping getting louder from county employees seated in the courthouse.
Ultimately, board Chairman Radig said a vote on the total budget would be held, including the original compensation board recommendation, as wrapped into it.
That move quickly passed 4-1, with Radig voting against it, and with that the full comp board proposal was adopted. The raises for 2019-20 were the highest percentage hike in years, county Finance Director Dennis Butler said.
After the increases, Clayton and Gill will each receive $91,355 per year, up from their current $86,492 and $88,694, respectively. Drew's annual salary will rise from $105,364 to $112,130, and Jennings will move from $126,608 to $132,938.
The supervisors' current annual pay is $40,554 for chairman Radig and $34,063 each for the other supervisors. The hikes will raise Radig's salary to $41,771 and the other four supervisors to $35,085.
One year ago, the supervisors voted unanimously all nine elected county officials a 2.75 percent pay raise for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Two years ago, the supervisors approved a plan giving themselves no raises, then also halved the raises that could have gone to four other county elected officials, ultimately making those 2 percent and 2.5 percent for 2017-18.
Going back further, all nine elected officials received a 3 percent raise in 2016-17 and 2.5 percent raises in 2015-16.
Friday is the final day for Iowa counties and cities to finalize budgets for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and runs through through June 30, 2020. The final county budget totals $58.2 million, or $2 million above the current year.
From the beginning of reviews of proposed department budgets, the supervisors made financial moves to pare costs and tap non-property tax county revenues for a combined reduction of $1.6 million, which ultimately didn't allow them to meet a goal some had of reducing the property tax levy for both taxpayer segments, of city and rural owners.
The outcome was property tax rates at $7.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for city residents and $9.73 per $1,000 for rural residents. The tax rates in the current year are $7.29 per $1,000 for city residents and $9.53 per $1,000 for rural residents.
The board held the final required public hearing before adopting the budget, and no persons other than county employees spoke in that opportunity.
After a financial plan with a lower county property tax rate had not been passed in at least 15 years, the supervisors starting with the 2015-16 year set lean budgets to get a lowered levy over four consecutive years, including the current budget year.
What effect property owners will see on individual tax bills depends upon their property value assessments, as those values are going up in the year ahead. The full tax bill is computed by multiplying the tax levy rate by assessed property valuation.