More than a thousand people are expected to receive money from a settlement with Sanimax, a South St. Paul animal rendering plant that neighbors say smells bad enough to make them curl up their noses and close their windows.
“The smell of dead animals is just gross,” said Lois Glewwe, a South St. Paul resident and historian. “I think the general community is thrilled that Sanimax … [has] to pay damages.”
The class action lawsuit, filed in March 2018 by two South St. Paul residents, accused Sanimax USA of producing “noxious odors” that have “physically invaded” properties near its facility at 505 Hardman Av. The emissions cause damages through “negligence, gross negligence and nuisance,” the complaint alleges.
“Sanimax is glad the litigation is behind everyone,” Donn Johnson, Sanimax’s general manager, said in a statement. “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.”
A settlement agreement reached this month will put $750,000 into a fund to be divided among “qualifying class members,” or all households within a 2-mile radius that sent in claim forms. Forms were sent to more than 10,300 homes and more than 1,500 returned them, court documents show. Distributions will be capped at $1,000 per household.
Sanimax must also pay the plaintiffs’ attorney costs of about $300,000 and invest at least $450,000 in projects to reduce emissions from the facility.
Patricia Keech and David Newfield, the plaintiffs, will each receive up to $1,500 for their efforts. Keech and Newfield, along with their Minneapolis-based attorney Jeff Storms and attorneys from Detroit-based Liddle & Dubin, were unable to comment because of a confidentiality clause, said Laura Sheets, an attorney with Liddle & Dubin.
Glewwe, who isn’t among those who will receive a payout, said the money won’t solve the problem: “What are you going to do with a thousand dollars? You still have the smell.”
She believes it’s time for Sanimax to move closer to other animal-related businesses and away from South St. Paul, but she said the company “will not leave.”
Sanimax, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., is among the last remnants of South St. Paul’s booming stockyards, which closed in 2008. The plant collects the oily byproducts of meat processing and turns them into pet food, soap, animal feed and chemicals.
This isn’t Sanimax’s first payout to settle a class-action lawsuit — the company has faced similar suits in Montreal and Wisconsin, paying $915,000 to settle the Wisconsin suit in 2016.
South St. Paul regularly receives complaints about the smell via a hotline created for that purpose. City officials contract with a firm to verify the complaints.
Other businesses in town also may generate strong odors, including tanning and hide businesses and a beef processing plant, City Council members have said.
Conflict between the city and Sanimax has simmered for years. In late May, the City Council unanimously voted to toughen its nuisance ordinance to crack down on odor generators. Sanimax objected to that ordinance change, calling it “unfair” and “ambiguous.”
Sanimax is also suing the city in district court, objecting to a zoning amendment approved in November that bans several land uses, including rendering plants, in a newly designated area. Sanimax can operate as a “legal nonconforming use” in the zone but can’t expand or repair its facility.
In that suit, Sanimax officials say they have tried to cooperate with South St. Paul and believe Sanimax is being targeted unfairly.