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Big Ox Energy

The Big Ox Energy plant in South Sioux City is shown in May 2017. A review of city of Sioux City records shows that the company owes $77,500 in unpaid fines for repeated violations of its permit to discharge sewage into Sioux City's wastewater treatment plant.

SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- A South Sioux City homeowner claims in a lawsuit that odors and gases from the Big Ox Energy plant led to a serious relapse of his medical condition that led to emergency room visits and hospitalization.

Guy and Teresa Frank are the 15th homeowners to sue the renewable energy plant and South Sioux City, claiming that the gases damaged their homes and caused health problems soon after the plant began operations in September 2016.

All 15 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.

In their suit, filed Tuesday in Dakota County District Court, the Franks said that Guy suffered extreme anxiety and depression and dangerous cardiac arrhythmia in addition to the relapse of his pre-existing medical condition.

Like other homeowners who have filed suit, the Franks allege that Big Ox and the city failed to operate wastewater treatment facilities and sewer systems to handle waste from the plant and prevent the release of hydrogen sulfate and other toxic gases. Other homeowners have complained of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, headaches, nausea, anxiety and emotional distress.

The lawsuits, all filed since Nov. 29, 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.

The Franks said that total monetary damages they have experienced are not fully known, but include three trips to the emergency room, hospital care, medications and ongoing medical care. Unlike other homeowners who have filed lawsuits, the Franks did not include damages for the loss of use of their home, displacement costs or repair costs.

Damages being sought in the other 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.

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