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City of Moberly blames animal fat and drought for odor complaints


The City of Moberly says animal fat from a nearby meat-processing facility and the ongoing drought over the summer are the cause of an odor coming from a wastewater-holding basin located just off Rollins Street near Highway 63.

Last week Moberly received its second warning from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources about the smell that was coming from the basin. The city received its first odor violation notice on Nov. 15.  The DNR gave Moberly until Dec. 29 to submit a plan to reduce the smell. City officials are meeting with the DNR on Thursday.

According to Moberly’s interim Utilities Director Steve Wilson, the city first began receiving complaints about the odor in April. 

“We have been in a drought for three years. For the first several months of this, we really thought just being in the drought was the main contributor to the lagoon smell issues," Wilson said.

The city believed that the drought prevented the water from diluting the sewage in the basin. Moberly officials then noticed grease sitting atop the lagoon that remained there for several months. After receiving its initial violation in November the city decided to get it tested. The test revealed that it was animal fat. 

“We have a producer in town JBS Prepared Foods that produces a significant amount of animal fats per day and has violated their permit pretty much every month since they have been here,” Wilson said. 

Swift Prepared Foods, a subsidiary of JBS USA, opened its $68 million facility in Moberly in May 2021. The facility produces fully-cooked bacon. At the time of its opening JBS Foods estimated the facility would create nearly 200 jobs in the region. The company currently employs more than 300 people. 

“There are punishments for not meeting your permit, we haven’t gotten into the fines part of it as of yet," Wilson said when asked if Moberly had levied any punishments against Swift Prepared Foods for the alleged permit violations. "We’re upgrading our permit, so we’re just at the moment they’re working with us well we’re working with them."

ABC 17 News reached out to JBS Foods for comment but has yet to hear back.

Moberly is now working towards removing the animal fats and grease from the waste basin. The project includes rerouting the line that was causing fat to enter the basin directly into the city’s wastewater plan as well as putting aerators into the lagoon to help stir the water to try and reduce the smell. ESS Brothers and Sons Inc. were awarded the job of rerouting the lines. 

“We had a company come in and they removed 48 thousand gallons of grease from the lagoon but it’s still coming in so until we can stop the flow coming into it it’s hard to remedy the problem," Wilson said.  

Wilson added that Moberly has litigators working on how the city will cover the cost of the project. According to Wilson, the city has spent more than $100,000 this year on cleaning its lines, as well as other costs associated with the lagoon project.

The city says it should have the line rerouted within the next three months and hopes the odor will be reduced by early spring.

“We are diligently doing our best to solve the problem," Wilson said. "They [Moberly residents] come first. We work for the citizens and the taxpayers of Moberly and their health and welfare should be and is our biggest concern and we are doing everything we can to remedy the problem.”

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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