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Big Ox Energy

The exterior of the Big Ox Energy plant in South Sioux City is shown Oct. 24.

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | South Sioux City residents displaced by hydrogen sulfide gas in their homes expressed their concern to the City Council Monday that a resident last week had been sent back to his home before levels were deemed safe by state standards. 

Chris Cornell, who lives on Redbird Lane, was displaced from his home on Oct. 28 due to the gas emanating from the sewer line and had been staying at Candlewood Inn and Suites, an extended stay hotel in Sioux City.

Cornell said he was alarmed when he received a call from City Administrator Lance Hedquist Wednesday, stating that his house was clean and that night would be his last in the hotel.

"I was shocked," he told the council Monday.

According to the state, official lab test results should show hydrogen sulfide readings of lower than 7.17 parts per billion before residents can safely return to their homes. A first batch of test results will be returned later this week, but none had been processed at the time of the call. 

Hedquist told residents Monday that he had thought the home was safe based on discussions with other people working on the home but that he did not call the person who had been conducting the official tests prior to calling Cornell.

Funding for Cornell's accommodations has since resumed after another resident initially covered the cost of one of his night's bills. Cornell said on Saturday, alarms in his home were still registering gas levels more than double the state recommended range.

The city has been paying hotel bills and other out-of-pocket living expenses for residents forced to flee unsafe homes. City officials have said Big Ox Energy has agreed to reimburse the city for those costs.

Residents told the council Monday they were frustrated with the lack of progress on resolving the odor problems and fear the company-funded stays would be cut short.

"I’m literally scared that you’re going to pick up the phone and you’re going to call me and you’re going to tell me, 'Oh we were in your house and it doesn’t smell bad so tonight’s your last night that you’re staying at the Marina,'" said South Sioux City resident Angela Campbell. 

Mayor Rod Koch assured the residents that they will not be sent home until their homes are "rock-solid safe," but he said city officials are still perplexed by the main problem: how the gas levels and the smells continue to persist. 

“The more we talk about this, it’s two issues. One is we’ve got to stop it. We don’t know what it is," Koch said. “The other thing is what is the process of fixing the houses?"

South Sioux City resident Mike Klassen said residents want third-party experts who have no conflict of interest with the city or Big Ox Energy to test residents' wiring, plumbing, HVAC systems and their personal health.

Koch said the city will begin locating experts to help.

It's been about two months since the odors entered several homes in the vicinity of Red Bird Lane to Lemasa Drive to 39th and 32nd streets, which share a sewer line with the facility.

The odors have been tied to hydrogen sulfide gas from Big Ox Energy, a renewable energy plant that recently started up in South Sioux City's Roth Industrial Park. The company has halted flows from the plant, which converts various waste into methane, into the sewer line until a permanent solution is found. 

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