Sergeant Bluff man ordered to pay $80k penalty for burning railroad ties

National News

John Goldsmith fire near Sergeant Bluff, Courtesy Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

DES MOINES, Iowa (KCAU) — A Sergeant Bluff man has been ordered to pay an $80,000 penalty for burning thousands of railroad ties on his property.

According to court documents, John Goldsmith, of Sergeant Bluff, called a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee on August 7, 2018, and said he had an estimated 30,000 railroad ties on his property and intended to burn some of them, despite being told it was illegal. He said that disposing the ties would cost significantly more than his property was worth. 

Goldsmith also said that he had barricaded his property to prevent local authorities from getting on-site. The employee informed Goldsmith that the burning would be in violation of the law.  

The burning began on August 11 and continued through August 14. Goldsmith threatened he would let out his three pit bulls if anybody entered his property in an attempt to put out the fire.

On August 11, Sergeant Bluff Fire Chief Anthony Gaul said the smoke from the burning was severe and was drifting towards the town where people were congregating outside in town for a local festival. The next morning, documents said the flames from the burning ties increased in severity and reached a height nearing 50 feet.

On August 13, Goldsmith told a DNR officer that he had burned between 5,000 to 6,000 railroad ties, saying it would have cost $400,000 to dispose of the ties in a landfill. The officer told Goldsmith to put out the fire and any smoldering debris. Goldsmith said he would put it out that day.

He was later subject to a burn complaint in September 2018 and has continued to burn waste, the state alleged. 

The flames and smoldering continued throughout the evening of August 13 until the morning of August 14.

On October 16, 2018, the Environmental Protection Commission requested the Iowa Attorney General initiate proceedings against Goldsmith.

On March 30, 2021, Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer granted the state’s motion for summary judgment and found that Goldsmith had violated state solid-waste and open-burning laws. 

Goldsmith will pay an $80,000 penalty, which is the maximum allowed by law, for burning the railroad ties.

Before being sued by the DNR in 2020, the DNR has issued seven notices of violations to Goldsmith since 2000.

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