Muscatine law “soot” pits GPC against disgruntled neighbors

MUSCATINE, Iowa -- Soot tells the story at Larry Alford's house.

"It smells like bad eggs," he said, on Monday, May 22.

As Grain Processing Corporation smokestacks billow nearby, it covers his outer walls with messy debris. After a quick swipe of his siding, it covers his hand.

"They need to do something about it," he continued.

Larry isn't alone in his desire to get GPC to "do something." He is one of more than 100 residents who have filed suit, claiming the nearby plant infringes on their enjoyment.

It's a landmark case where neighbors are seeking payback for years of pollution.

"We want to make the community a little better for everybody that lives here," said Sharon Mockmore, who is part of the original case.

The Iowa Supreme Court is certifying a class action lawsuit. Residents from 2007-12, who live within 1.5 miles of the plant, can participate.

GPC, which started operating here in 1943, is disappointed in the ruling.

It recently spent $83 million on emission and environmental controls while switching from coal to natural gas.

There seems to be a contradiction between the courts and industry regulations.

"If I got the permits and follow the permits, then some residents claim to have an alternate opinion, that's a little tough to reconcile for any business," said GPC Spokesperson Janet Sichterman.

The legal action could wind up including about 4,000 people. Lifelong resident Brian Freitag, 50, is ready for a settlement.

"This has gone on for so long,' he said.  "They need to make it right with the people that live in the area."

GPC counters that residents chose to live near the plant.

"Our assumption is that folks built homes, moved into homes around the plant, because they wanted to live there," Sichterman said.

While there's no timeline for legal action, GPC says the certification is bad for Iowa businesses, large and small.

"GPC is focused on being a responsible corporate citizen and remains committed to their employees, customers and the community of Muscatine," Sichterman concluded.