Jun. 18--Shortly after LeAnne Renteria and her husband moved to South St. Paul in 2003, they got their first whiff of what gave the city its blue-collar reputation and "Cow Town" moniker: the stockyards.
But when the yards closed in April 2008, a stench lingered. Over the years, residents and city officials have pointed fingers at Sanimax, a remnant of the yards that processes meat byproducts, hides and used cooking oil into animal feed and biofuels.
"It's more of a rotting smell, versus just farm animals," Renteria said this week from her home in a neighborhood that sits on a hill just over a mile west of Sanimax. "The sad thing is I think people have just gotten used to it. Other people come here and go, 'Oh my gosh ... it's horrible.' And it is ... it's terrible."
Now, Renteria and some residents soon will get some relief.
This month, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Tunheim approved a settlement agreement of a lawsuit filed by two South St. Paul residents against Sanimax USA in March 2018. The lawsuit, which was certified as a class action, alleges that the company's "noxious odors" from 505 Hardman Ave. "invade" the plaintiffs' properties, causing "damages through negligence, gross negligence and nuisance."
The settlement agreement requires the Green Bay, Wis.-based company to pay $750,000 into a fund for qualifying class members. The company must also invest at least $450,000 on projects aimed at reducing pollutants, contaminants and odors emitting from the plant, which is situated in a business district along the Mississippi River and north of Interstate 494.
In a statement Wednesday, Sanimax general manager Donn Johnson said the company is "glad the litigation is behind everyone."
"We have been a part of this wonderful community for the past half-century, and we remain open to productive community dialogue allowing us to continue for the next half-century," he continued.
1,500 RETURN CLAIM FORMS
The two main plaintiffs were residents David Newfield and Patsy Keech, an Eagan High School teacher who lives across the street from Renteria. The plaintiffs were represented by Minneapolis attorney Jeff Storms and Liddle & Dubin, a Detroit-based law firm that filed a class-action lawsuit against Sanimax in 2014 on behalf of Green Bay residents.
In October 2016, Sanimax agreed to payout $915,000 into a class settlement fund for thousands of Green Bay-area residents. It also agreed to put nearly $400,000 in improvements to its facility.
A confidentiality clause in the South St. Paul settlement agreement prevents Newfield and Keech and the attorneys from discussing terms of the settlement.
Documents filed in court show that claim forms were sent to 10,395 households that were believed to be the members who fell within the class definition: current or former owners or occupiers of South St. Paul residential property within a two-mile radius of Sanimax.
Before the April 18 deadline, over 1,500 households returned claim forms seeking a distribution from a proposed settlement fund, court filings show. For representing the class, Keech and Newfield will be guaranteed $1,500 each.
Sanimax must also pay attorney fees and costs totaling just over $300,000 -- money that will be taken from the $750,000 fund.
In January, Judge Tunheim denied a motion by neighboring Newport to join the lawsuit. Tunheim ruled that because the court was on the cusp of approving a proposed settlement agreement, the city's motion to intervene was not timely. He also concluded the city "does not meet the criteria for intervention."
GOOD DAYS AND BAD DAYS
Renteria, who joined the lawsuit after learning about it from Keech, said that when it comes to the stench, there are good days and bad, depending on what the facility is doing and which way the wind is blowing.
She is not against Sanimax operating in town, she said.
"I mean, I understand the business that they're doing and I see a need for it, but I also don't think people should have to endure that smell, either," she said.
For her, she said, it was never about being compensated monetarily, but action to reduce or eliminate the odor.
"I don't even know if there's a way to fix it. I hope there is," she said. "Everybody is getting x-amount of dollars. Well, if it doesn't fix the smell, what good is it? I'm hoping we don't have to smell this smell anymore, or at least it's not nearly as bad as it has been at times."
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