MARENGO, Iowa — Iowa's News Now learned Wednesday the explosion and fire at C6-Zero in December will be ruled accidental. 15 workers were hospitalized after the blast. Fortunately, no fatalities. The Iowa DNR also tried to conduct another inspection of the site on Tuesday, January 24 but was again turned away in violation of a DNR emergency order,
Iowa's News Now has reached out to the DNR for comment, they declined because of the ongoing investigation and pending legal action.
Two former Republican officials, one now working in public relations, the other as a lobbyist, vouched for C6-Zero when concerns were raised about their operation in Marengo. The information, first obtained by The Gazette, lays out a series of emails between DNR officials and former Chief of Staff to Governor Terry Branstad, Jeff Boeyink, and former Iowa Speaker of the House Christopher Rants.
The emails also detail the tension between the company and the Department of Natural Resources. On April 7, 2022 the Iowa DNR notified Marengo City Clerk Karla Marck about an upcoming inspection. But when the official arrived, he was met by C6-Zero's attorney Tim Dore, and told he could not conduct any inspection. The officials later wrote: "Tim stated I had no right to be on-site and that they do not intend to do anything in the future that requires interaction with the Department.”
When another official tried again to inspect the site in May 2022, they were again turned away. At this point, Kurt Levetzow, supervisor for the Iowa DNR’s environmental field office in Washington, Iowa warned the Iowa County Sheriff's Deputy Todd Sauerbrauer that the DNR would consider a search warrant in order to get in. This was now less than seven months before the explosion.
After those interactions and threats of a warrant, Jeff Boeyink, a partner at the lobbying firm LS2group, reached out to the DNR himself. LS2group is a firm that's worked for several large industrial and agricultural operations in Iowa. In late May, Boeyink told the DNR in an email: "I understand there is some checkered history here and I want to assure you that LS2group will guide them to honor and abide by the rules and regulations in this state, I think you know we have done similar work with Iowa Fertilizer Company, Iowa Premium Beef, and Lehigh Hanson cement and are not about to cut any corners.”
Boeyink also asked in his note to be included in a May 26th video meeting between the DNR and C6-Zero.
Former Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants was also part of that video meeting. Notes taken at the meeting by Tim Hall, hydrology resources coordinator for the DNR, shows Boeylink again assured state leaders they were committed to doing things by the book. Then in August, he proposed a date for state and local officials to tour the facility, provided they sign a non-disclosure agreement.
"We do not sign NDA's," said Ed Tormey with the DNR's Environmental Services Division. He reminded those in the meeting there is already a state law banning the DNR from disclosing any trade secrets. Everyone agreed and the tour was scheduled for November 9.
On November 9, the tour only included a portion of the facility. The area where a conveyor belt and chemicals that were of most concern to the DNR was not included. Officials told them it was because of a water leak, and they would tour it at a later day. “I thought it was going well, up until the point they ushered us all out of the building at 11:36 a.m.,” Levetzow wrote. “I thought that was quite bizarre. We had all sorts of questions to ask them but didn't get the opportunity.”
C6-Zero has until January 29 to provide the DNR with an inventory of chemicals and substances inside the facility. They also must provide a mitigation plan for the site. One February 6, The Iowa Attorney General's Office will take part in a hearing in Iowa County looking to force C6-Zero to comply with the DNR's emergency order.
Iowa's News Now reached out to Mark Corallo, who is serving as a spokesman for the company, but have not heard back.