Bridgewater city councilman Phil Heiberger removes wooden pallets Wednesday from the Bridgewater Quality Meats facility. Meat may have been rotting at the abandoned meat plant for the past six months, according to authorities who cleaned up the stinking, maggot-infested mess this week. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo
By: Liz Bos, The Daily Republic
BRIDGEWATER — Meat may have been rotting in an abandoned Bridgewater meat plant for the past six months, according to authorities who cleaned up the stinking, maggot-infested mess this week.
Bridgewater Quality Meats’ power was shut off in December 2008, authorities said. Tuesday, after residents had recently begun noticing a smell emanating from the facility, authorities discovered and removed 44 tons of meat. Wednesday, the cleanup was still ongoing.
“It was absolute disbelief that somebody would let that much meat go bad,” McCook County Emergency Manager Brad Stiefvater said. “That’s high dol- lars. There’s a lot of value there. I don’t understand it.”
The meat, which was apparently left behind by owner Ilan Parente after he relocated his business to Minnesota, sat in coolers at the plant until Bridgewater locals began noticing a rotting smell two weeks ago. Bridgewater City Councilman Bob Anderson said that initial attempts to contact Parente were unsuccessful until the city’s attorney got involved. Parente then sent two employees to clean up the mess, but after it became clear progress wasn’t being made, the city stepped in.
“It’s too bad (the meat) had to go to waste when there’s so many people that could have used it,” Anderson said.
People in Bridgewater don’t know why Parente abandoned the meat, but some suspect he might have done it intentionally as payback for past run-ins with authorities.
“I couldn’t believe anybody would deliberately leave a mess like that,” said Ed Meyer, a volunteer on the cleanup crew. “So here I am, just as a city volunteer, no pay, and the owner is sitting where, in his air-conditioned office?”
According to Stiefvater, Bridgewater Quality Meats closed early last year. It was reported that Parente moved his business to a facility in Dawson, Minn. Parente had several run-ins with authorities prior to that, including in 2004 when his company was sued by the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources for environmental violations.
Stiefvater does not yet know what the total cost for the cleanup will be but said it has involved “quite a few community resources.”
“No doubt we will try to recoup that from the owner,” Stiefvater said.
The cleanup crew, comprised of 20 volunteers from Bridgewater, including the mayor and several city council members, was on the job from noon Tuesday to midnight Wednesday morning. Some additional work was required Wednesday to bleach and wash out the coolers where the meat was kept, and to dispose of trash from the building, which Stiefvater estimated would take most of the day.
Stiefvater said the volunteers had to wear rebreathers to protect them against gas and bacteria from the rotting meat. There was also a danger that Freon leaks in the building might combine with bleach in the disinfection solution to produce dangerous fumes.
Locals don’t know how long the meat was in the building — only that the power was shut off in December, and that any meat in the building since then has probably been rotting.
“Nobody in that town had any idea there was that much meat in there,” Stiefvater said.
Bridgewater Mayor Marty Barattini said he is not sure if the building will be usable after the cleanup, due to the extent of the damage and contamination. The city plans to thoroughly disinfect the inside and outside of the building and evaluate the property once the cleanup is finished. Barattini also said that he is very appreciative of all the effort from community members helping with the cleanup.
“The thing I think about the most is with the amount of meat that was left in that building, why that meat was left to rot as opposed to taken to the Banquet or one of the missions to feed the poor,” Barattini said. “I believe there was enough meat in that building to feed the homeless of Sioux Falls for a year.