SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. — It has been nearly 3 years since Big Ox Energy began operations in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Shortly after launching operations, dozens of homes located near the plant were affected by hydrogen sulfide gas, making them uninhabitable.
Many of those homes still sit empty, some just shells of what they used to be.
Siouxland News producer Katie Copple, went inside three of the nearly dozen homes affected by hydrogen sulfide, to see what they look like nearly 3 years after the residents had to leave.
Jonathan Goodier takes a deep breath before opening the door to an empty rental owned by Rob and Marie Baker. This is one of a quad-plex that sits on G Street.
"That's the smell," he said as we walk into the home. "and the fact that it's cold and it's still not heated up enough and you can still smell it and feel it. And the thing is, you will feel it after you leave."
The Goodier's and the Baker's haven't been in these homes in months.
"When this started two years ago, you couldn't event get by the door, you'd already smell it," Goodier said as we walked deeper in to the empty rental, "It's a chemical odor, it's just atrocious."
Two doors down sits the former home of Rob Baker's parents. This home looks different. It's fully furnished and has sat untouched since his parents left in late 2016.
"The pictures, I mean everything. Walked out and left it all," Rob said as he moved through the home.
Downstairs is where you can really see the deterioration.
Along the back wall, you can see mold on the floor and crawling up the basement wall and the back bedroom is similar.
Walking back into the storage room, the Rob and his wife Marie point out the black residue left on the copper piping, which was new when the Hydrogen Sulfide gas began leaking in to this home.
Down the street on Red Bird Lane, John Goodier's home sits empty, stripped to the studs after the city tried to eradicate the smell from the home.
"This is the home that they stripped down and they were going to use as the tester house," Goodier said as we walked in to his home. "Then they sent us a letter threatening us if we did not do the test that Big Ox wanted, that they were going to walk away. As you can see, they walked away."
When this all started in 2016, the Goodier family has just moved in. They hadn't even finished unpacking yet.
"We had just bought the house. We had lived here a month and a half. We didn't even have stuff on the walls yet," he said. "They ruined our lives. They ruined my son's high school years."
If you were just looking at the home and didn't know the story behind it, it looks like it's under construction, but for the Goodier family, it's a painful reminder of what almost was.
"They were hoping that it could be contained. That you could get rid of the carpet, paint over the walls and call it a day. But that's not the case. The case is it saturated everything that could absorbed."
In the basement of the Goodier's home, what used to be a finished room also sits empty.
"Brand new carpet all the way through," Goodier says as he shows me around the basement. "This was our family TV and entertainment center, game tables over here."
Like the Baker's homes, mold can be found along the walls and wooden surfaces.
For now, the Bakers, the Goodiers and other families are just trying to move on. Many other homes still sit empty and many of these families are in litigation with Big Ox and the City of South Sioux City.
Those 15 lawsuits were all filed between the end of 2016 and 2018 and claim that the toxic odors coming from Big Ox Energy caused a number of health issues.
There is also a class action lawsuit that was filed earlier this year against Big Ox Energy, claiming negligence from the plant. That lawsuit includes more than 2.000 homes that are within a 2-mile radius of Big Ox Energy.
Will these homes ever be livable again? As of now, no one seems to know.