South St. Paul cries foul on odors

South St. Paul’s smelliness is partially attributed to the meat packing industry that settled there. The city’s stockyards were established in the late 1800s, and by 1974 (and through 1981) it was the world’s largest livestock market. Meat processing has dwindled in recent years, although the smells continue to characterize the city. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

City council passes ordinance to curb stench from businesses

Two weeks ago, South St. Paul’s proposed odor ordinance vote was put on hold, mainly because of the absence of Mayor Beth Baumann.

With a full city council and the mayor on-hand, the new law intended to reduce foul odors generated by local businesses was approved unanimously at the council’s Monday, July 7 meeting.

“I think we feel good about everything,” said city council member Tom Seaberg. “We’re looking to work with all the companies on it, and think they’re looking forward to working with us as well. We want to make it a win-win for everyone.”

One thing that has become clear is that the odors seem to affect visitors’ perceptions quite a bit, mainly because they are not used to the pungent smell, and many residents say that hurts the community’s overall image.

South St. Paul has a history with pungent aromas dating back to its stockyard days, but residents have complained the odors have been worse the past few summers.

The odor issue is frequently blamed on businesses such as Sanimax, Twin Cities Tanning, Twin Cities Hide and Dakota Premium Foods, all of which work with rendered animal products and are located along the river near Interstate 494 in the southeast part of the city.

But those businesses counter their practices and equipment have actually become safer and cleaner over the past 50 years.

In 2010, the city hired St. Croix Sensory, a Lake Elmo company that specializes in testing air samples, to conduct an odor survey of the city using olfactometers (portable odor measuring devices). The city considered an odor ordinance at that time, but eventually abandoned the plans.

Frequent odor complaints also drew an investigation from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in August of 2012, but, as with previous efforts, the investigation provided the city with no action steps to address the issue.

The latest push to enact an odor ordinance began in December 2013.

A cooperative effort

Further complicating the situation is the fact that other businesses in the industrial park say residents and visitors unfairly blame them for contributing to the odor problem.

One example is S&S Tree and Landscaping Specialists, whose business office on Hardman Avenue sits in close proximity to Sanimax, an animal rendering and waste oil processor.

During the past seven months city staff worked closely with several businesses while drafting the ordinance in order to draw input and make sure the goals and processes were realistic.

The city council and a group of Sanixmax representatives, met at a public meeting two weeks ago that took nearly three hours. About a third of the time focused on the proposed odor ordinance and what businesses said was its perceived “vagueness.” Afterwards, those in attendance said the discussions were helpful, and they were able to strike a balance that was deemed fair for all parties involved.

“I get that there’s no perfect ordinance or law, but I’m comfortable enough with this to recommend that we move forward,” council member Todd Podgorski said at the July 7 council meeting.

Sweet smell of success

While the new law will mainly affect businesses in the industrial park near the Mississippi, residents certainly have reason to rejoice over the news of the successful passage of the ordinance, which sets standards and penalties for businesses that emit excessive odors.

“It isn’t why my family moved (away), but the smell definitely didn’t help matters,” said St. Paul resident and South St. Paul native David Boettger.

“I still come back here a lot, and may come back a bit more if this holds up and something gets done.”

Dakota Premium Foods (which is temporarily closed due to the national beef shortage), Twin City Hide, Twin City Tanning and Sanimax have formed a consortium to monitor the presence and extent of odors they generate that may play a role in the problems the city has experienced.

Sanimax has donated $1 million towards the effort of helping eliminate the offending odors.

“Sanimax is a long-time community partner and employer in South St. Paul. We have and will continue to take proactive and responsive steps to reduce our odor footprint as a good neighbor,” said Mike Moyer, the Sanimax plant’s general manager.

“In fact, this year we’re investing over $1 million in new odor mitigation technology at our facility,” he added.

You can reach Tim Faklis at 651-748-7814, at, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews.


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