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With 2016 in the rear view mirror, it's time to speed ahead to the New Year.

What will 2017 hold for us? Journal staff writers, in the fast last of a four-lane highway, peered through the windshield and predicted, in no particular order, what stories we'll all be talking about this year.

Pork plant startup

With a projected startup date of July 31, Seaboard Triumph Foods officials will have their hands full recruiting enough workers for the company’s sprawling pork plant under construction in Sioux City's Bridgeport industrial area.

The 850,000-square-foot facility plant, which will start initially with one shift and about 1,100 workers, is the midst of buildings its management team, but has not yet started hiring for hourly positions, said Irving Jensen III, the company's director of communications, community relations, government affairs and purchasing.

“We’ve been filling our management positions now and there are some selective management positions still forthcoming,” Jensen said. “As we get closer probably April, May the hiring will really crank up. January and February will be spent at job fairs and the like.”

A majority of the exterior work has been completed on the plant, which will initially host 200 salaried positions and 900 hourly workers. The 850,000-square-foot facility is a joint venture between Seaboard Foods of Merriam, Kan., and Triumph Foods, a St. Joseph, Mo.-based company owned by a national group of pork farmers.

What to watch? Will the company meet its July 31 startup date? What strategies will the company employ to meet its hiring goals? And, where will all the workers recruited to the region find a place to live?

Wastewater investigation

What will the result of ongoing investigations into the management of the city's wastewater treatment plant be?

The city's wastewater treatment practices came under scrutiny in April 2015, when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources learned two plant supervisors were manipulating chemical levels used to treat sewage, which resulted in legally permitted discharges into the Missouri River to contain high levels of E. coli bacteria, potentially endangering public health.

In December, the FBI executed search warrants and seized city computer data related to the plant's management. The city also is compiling information requested by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It all could mean that criminal charges are being considered against current or former city employees and/or officials, but federal authorities and attorneys said it was one step in the investigation and does not indicate wrongdoing.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office also is reviewing the case for consideration of civil penalties higher than what the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is able to assess.

WHAT TO WATCH: Will criminal charges be filed against city employees and/or officials as a result of the federal investigation? What will the Attorney General's office find in its review of the case?

South Sioux odor issues

A majority of the families forced to evacuate their homes in October and live in hotels due to a foul and potentially dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas coming from the sewer line gave the city an ultimatum on Dec. 27: fix the problem in the next six months.

The residents demand that the city or Big Ox Energy, whose renewable energy plant shared a sewer line with the residents and started up around the same time the odors were first reported, pay the mortgages, utilities, insurance and other expenses associated with the homes after Jan. 31. Tired of hotel living, the residents plan to find more permanent housing after that date.

The city has since taken a number of steps to try to solve the lingering odors, which include redirecting wastewater flows from Big Ox and other tenants in the Roth Industrial Park into a newly-built force main. However, traces of the harmful gas still remain in the homes in the five-block area of Red Bird Lane and Lemasa Drive. Big Ox has also been under OSHA investigation after several people in different instances at the plant south of town have been taken to the hospital after exposures to hydrogen sulfide. 
WHAT TO WATCH? Will the city find a permanent fix to the odors and will Big Ox comply meet the residents' latest demands? If not, will legal action be initiated to force the city or company to acquire homes residents consider no longer livable?

Woodbury County Supervisors

The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors will undergo a substantial makeover, as three Democratic supervisors with a combined 54 years of service -- Larry Clausen, Mark Monson and Jackie Smit -- ended their tenures in December. With the election of Republicans Rocky De Witt and Keith Radig and Democrat Marty Pottebaum in November, the GOP now controls four of the five seats, the first majority for the party since 1982.

The new supervisors ran on issues that included keeping property taxes low and working on county jail issues, including ongoing maintenance and ways to lessen the number of inmates.

WHAT TO WATCH: With De Witt and Radig joining holdover Republican members Jeremy Taylor and Matthew Ung, will the board move in a more conservative direction on  tax policy and other issues?

Argosy nonprofit suit

In November, Community Action Agency of Siouxland sued the owners of the former Argosy riverboat casino in Woodbury County District Court for nearly $2 million in revenue-sharing payments that were withheld from Missouri Rivery Historical District for distribution to charities.

The agency is seeking the money on behalf of itself and as many as 54 other nonprofit agencies that in the past have received grants from MRHD, the state-licensed nonprofit gaming group that distributed a portion of the casino's gambling profits to dozens of area organizations.

The Belle of Sioux City, which operated the casino, and was a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming Inc., stopped making payments -- 3 percent of the Sioux City boat's adjusted gross revenues -- to MRHD for 16 months before the Argosy's July 2014 closure.

WHAT TO WATCH: How fast the lawsuit will proceed and whether the nonprofit agencies will be able to collect the money that was withheld.

Sioux City council vacancy

Keith Radig will resign Tuesday take a seat on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors, leaving an open spot on the council for the 12 months remaining in his term.

Council members have expressed their desire to appoint a new member to fill out the remaining year of the term in the coming weeks, but according to Iowa law, Sioux City residents can also petition to force a special election to fill the void.

While the council wishes to avoid a special election due to the time involved and the costs involved, Doug Waples, a longtime Sioux City resident, has told the Journal he already has the required signatures to trigger the special election, which could be held just weeks or months before the regularly scheduled council election this year. The seats held by Councilmen Pete Groetken and Dan Moore also will be on that ballot.

WHAT TO WATCH: How quickly will the council make an appointment? When will a special election be held and who will seek the seat. Will Moore and Groetken make a bid for re-election?

Dakota County murder case

The murder case involving the death and dismembering of an Emerson, Nebraska, man will begin to wind its way through the legal system, and we may yet see a trial in 2017.

Andres Surber, 25, and Brayan Galvan-Hernandez, 18, both of Wakefield, Nebraska, are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 10 in Dakota County District Court on first-degree murder and other charges. The two are accused of killing Kraig D. Kubik, 41, with a gunshot wound to the head on Nov. 1.

Evidence eventually led authorities on Nov. 2 to a severed arm and leg in the trunk of a Chevrolet Impala located at 86975 579th Ave. in rural Dixon County. The rest of Kubik's remains were found four days later in a creek about four miles away.

WHAT TO WATCH: Will the special prosecutor seek the death penalty, which Nebraska voters reinstated in the November election? Will the case be moved from Dakota County due to extensive media coverage?

Reinvestment district

City staff expect the application for Sioux City's requested $13.9 million in future hotel and sales taxes to go before the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board for final approval at its January meeting.

If approved, 2017 will see several steps of progress on the three projects involved, which represent more than $70 million in investments.

Projects include an Ag Expo & Learning Center in Sioux City’s former stockyards area, a convention center hotel in the middle of downtown and the renovation of former industrial buildings by Ho-Chunk Inc. into loft-style apartments and commercial areas known as Virginia Square.

WHAT TO WATCH: Will the city win final approval for tax credit funding from the IEDA board? Who will develop the convention center hotel and what national flag will it fly? Which existing hotel planning a major renovation will also be part of the district?

Sioux City school budget

Facing decreased enrollment and lower than hoped for increase in state aid, along with rising costs, the Sioux City School District is facing a $2 million budget deficit for the school year that begins July 1.

To cut costs, the district is restructuring its middle school reading program and offering an expanded early retirement package for veteran teachers. Through the added incentives, which includes reimbursement for accrued sick days, the district hopes to eliminate 45 positions without layoffs.

What to watch: Will enough teachers accept early retirement? What other expenses will the district. ill school district eliminate nearly $2M in projected budget deficit?

Local sports teams

The Sioux City Musketeers are off to an impressive start to the season and currently sit atop the Western Conference standings in the U.S. Hockey League. The team is getting production up and down the lineup, but the play of forward Eeli Tolvanen, a possible first-round pick in the NHL draft, and goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks have been two big keys to the success.

Sioux City Explorers Manager Steve Montgomery has turned the team into a perennial playoff contender. The X's will be looking to make the postseason for a third consecutive season in 2017 and eyeing a third straight Central Division title for a team that has won 129 regular season games the past two seasons.

The Sioux City Bandits reached the playoffs in 2016 but have designs on a fourth indoor football title in 2017. Coach Erv Strohbeen has helped make the Bandits a model franchise with a core group of veterans supplemented with some talented newcomers.

WHAT TO WATCH: Will Sioux City become Titletown in 2017 with each team seemingly in good position to make a strong push?

The Journal's Alex Boisjolie, Jeff Budlong, Dave Dreeszen, Greg Forbes, Bret Hayworth, Nick Hytrek, Ian Richardson and Ty Rushing contributed to this story.


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