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Newport wants to sue Sanimax for making the town stink like rotting animals

The Wakota Bridge heading into Newport is called the "Stinky Bridge" for a reason.

The Wakota Bridge heading into Newport is called the "Stinky Bridge" for a reason. Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Last year, South St. Paul residents Patricia Keech and David Newfield decided they’d had enough with Sanimax.

The company is headquartered in Wisconsin, but its rendering facility—where it turns animal byproducts like used cooking oil and discarded skins into pet food, soaps, and even antifreeze—is in South St. Paul. They’ve got no problem with what it does. But they do have a problem with how it smells.

The two filed suit in March 2018, alleging that “noxious odors” wafting from the facility were preventing them from fully using and enjoying their own property. According to the complaint, some “80 households” had contacted the pair's lawyers with similar bones to pick.

That lawsuit is now in its final stages, with a preliminary settlement pending. But it might not be over just yet. It turns out the residents of South St. Paul aren’t the only people fed up. They now have an unexpected ally in the entire city of Newport, which voted to join the lawsuit last week.

Mayor Dan Lund doesn’t mince words. Newport stinks. It has for a long time. But the stench no longer comes from the closed stockyards. And the neighboring refinery and recycling center have taken drastic measures to curb odor emissions. The remaining villain is Sanimax.

“It smells like rotting animals,” he says.

Planning outdoor get-togethers is often predicated on whether there’s a decent breeze, or if it’s going to be one of those dreaded still days. It’s especially bad on the Wakota Bridge leading into town—the “Stinky Bridge,” colloquially.

“Because the bridge stinks, the smell is associated with Newport,” Lund says. That’s not exactly an attractive reputation. In a letter to Judge John Tunheim, the city’s attorney described the “lost tax base from lack of private development” and “lower property values” it’s caused.

“The city has spent over $1 million to remove the Knox Lumber building to make way for the Transit Station and new development, but we are seeing little interest in the site which sits immediately east of Sanimax.”

Lund doesn't believe the preliminary settlement is harsh enough. Sanimax is supposed to pay around $750,000 in damages and legal fees. It also gets four lawsuit-free years to install $450,000 worth of odor control tech.

According to said settlement, the company has already spent over $2 million on odor control since 2011. Lund is skeptical that another $450,000 is going to do much—especially since it’s not the first time the company has found itself in court over the smell.

“Sanimax has demonstrated that they’d prefer to go to court than fix the problem,” he says. He wants a tougher settlement that will convince the company to take drastic action.

A statement from Sanimax General Manager Donn Johnson “acknowledges” there are “odors that can occasionally be detected,” and that it's “making investments to mitigate them.”

“At this time, Sanimax has not opposed the city of Newport’s request to enter the lawsuit at this late stage," he said. "In fact, Sanimax has suggested that the court create a subclass to allow the city to have a seat at the table."

Whether or not the city actually can join the lawsuit is up to the judge. It is a little late in the game for another party to jump in. But Lund and Newport remain hopeful.

“Enough is enough,” he says.