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June 16, 2021

Judge orders $80,000 penalty for environmental violations 

This image from court filings shows railroad ties burning on John Goldsmith's property on Aug. 12, 2018, a day after the fire was set.

Sergeant Bluff man had burned thousands of railroad ties 

DES MOINES —  A judge has ruled that a Sergeant Bluff man must pay an $80,000 penalty — the maximum allowed by law — for burning thousands of railroad ties on his property, despite being warned by state regulators against doing so. 

John Goldsmith also was given a permanent injunction from violating solid-waste and open-burning laws. Chief Judge Duane E. Hoffmeyer of the Third Judicial District warned Goldsmith that he could face contempt charges and possibly jail time if he disobeys the judge’s order. 

“Goldsmith financially benefited greatly by this fire taking place. Goldsmith took little action to have it put out. Goldsmith has violated DNR guidelines in the past, did so in August 2018, and yet a burn event still took place on September 30, 2018,” Hoffmeyer said in his ruling. “This behavior is a violation of the law and Goldsmith needs to be ordered to pay the maximum civil penalty and an injunction entered to protect the community, serve as deterrence for future illegal violations, and to punish financially a seemingly indifferent, confrontational behavior.”  

The Department of Natural Resources, represented by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, sued Goldsmith in 2020. The DNR had issued several notices of violations to Goldsmith since 2000. 

According to the lawsuit, Goldsmith called a DNR employee on Aug. 7, 2018, and said he had an estimated 30,000 railroad ties on his property and intended to burn some of them. 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 Aug. 11 and continued through Aug. 14. Goldsmith also threatened that he would let out his three pit bulls if anybody entered onto his property in an attempt to put out the fire, the lawsuit said. 

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

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


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