Harris operation sues over bird flu cleanup

Sunrise Farms Inc. has filed a lawsuit against businesses hired by the U.S. government for disinfection purposes after the egg-laying operation located south of Harris was affected by the 2015 bird flu outbreak. Sunrise Farms claims damage to its facilities.

HARRIS—The trial date for a federal lawsuit involving a large Osceola County commercial egg-laying operation has been rescheduled.

The jury trial in the case of Sunrise Farms Inc. of rural Harris — which was affected by the 2015 bird flu outbreak versus — against businesses hired by the U.S. government for disinfection purposes has been pushed back from Jan. 27 to Nov. 30, 2020.

Sunrise Farms, a division of Sonstegard Foods Co. of Sioux Falls, SD, originally filed its lawsuit on Jan. 31, 2018, in Osceola County District Court in Sibley.

The litigation was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa on March 6, 2018, and is set for a jury trial in Sioux City.

According to federal court documents, Sunrise Farms has claimed that chlorine dioxide gas and heat treatments used to kill the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza on its premises destroyed barn equipment, electrical wiring, various production equipment and waterlines and diminished the structural integrity of the operation’s barns.

Sunrise Farms, located about seven miles south of Harris at 2060 White Ave., is home to a feed mill, 25 barns for egg-laying hens, two manure barns and a processing plant.

On April 19, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of the bird flu at Sunrise Farms.

At the time, the operation was home to nearly 4 million egg-laying hens and about 500,000 pullets, or young hens that are raised to become egg-laying hens.

Confirmation of the deadly strain of the virus led to about 3.8 million egg-laying hens and all of the pullets being wiped out at the operation.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship immediately shut down Sunrise Farms, restricted ac­­cess to its premises and im­­posed vehicle disinfection.

By April 23, 2015, two APHIS officials arrived at the operation and assumed responsibility for leading the subsequent cleanup and disinfection process.

APHIS contracted with multiple companies in an effort to euthanize Sunrise Farms’ remaining hens and pullets and disinfect its barns to stop the disease from spreading April 27-Sept. 15, 2015.

The first company contracted by APHIS was Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc. of Norwell, MA, one of the defendants in Sunrise Farms’ lawsuit.

Clean Harbors brought several hundred workers to the operation who belonged to several subcontractors.

Following bird removal, APHIS and Clean Harbors initiated a phase to clean and disinfect all of Sunrise Farms’ barns with chlorine dioxide gas treatments.

APHIS contracted with Sabre Energy Services LLC of Slingerlands, NY, to treat 11 of Sunrise Farms’ barns with chlorine dioxide gas, a chemical known to eliminate the bird flu. Sabre also is being sued by Sunrise Farms.

In the middle of August 2015, APHIS contracted with Clean Harbors and KDF Enterprises LLC of Alpharetta, GA, another defendant in the lawsuit, to perform heat treatments on 14 of Sunrise Farms’ other barns, feed mill and processing plant.

On Sept. 16, 2015, Sunrise Farms’ barns were confirmed to be free of the virus and eligible for restocking.

According to federal court documents, Sunrise Farms has alleged that the three companies hired by APHIS — plus six subcontractors employed by Clean Harbors — to clean and disinfect the operation’s property left Sunrise Farms’ property “significantly damaged and impaired” and “required extensive corrective repairs and labor.”

Sunrise Farms has claimed negligence and breach of contract by the companies and is seeking to be fully compensated for all of its losses, interest, accrued late charges and the cost of its lawsuit.

Clean Harbors, Sabre and KDF have denied Sunrise Farms’ allegations and have asked for the litigation to be dismissed.

Clean Harbors also has sued the six other companies that it subcontracted to assist in cleaning up and disinfecting Sunrise Farms. One of those businesses has sued seven other companies with which it had contracts.