A former chief of staff for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and a former Republican lawmaker helped grease the skids for C6-Zero, a company with a "checkered history" in other states whose Marengo plant exploded in December.
In the seven months before the Dec. 8, 2022, explosion and fire that injured 15 people and left an environmental mess, Jeff Boeyink — a partner at the Des Moines public relations and lobbying firm LS2group and Branstad's chief of staff from 2010 to 2013 — wrote to Iowa DNR leaders and Marengo officials at least 10 times on behalf of C6-Zero to answer questions, allay concerns and invite officials to tour the site, according to emails obtained by The Gazette.
C6-Zero's relationship with regulators went from hostile — an Iowa DNR supervisor said May 13, 2022, he was considering getting a search warrant because the company would not allow an inspector on site — to cordial in a matter of weeks once Boeyink was on the job, the emails show.
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"Learning that C6 reached out to get assistance from you and your company gives me a great deal of relief as well as getting to hear from their consultant for the very first time was very helpful," Kurt Levetzow, supervisor for the Iowa DNR's environmental field office in Washington, Iowa, wrote to Boeyink May 31, 2022.
These responses were included in 141 emails The Gazette received as part of a request to the Iowa DNR, which now is suing C6-Zero to force cleanup of the explosion site, where petroleum products and other chemicals have seeped into water and soil.
Few people knew about the large caches of chemicals that were a ticking time bomb at the Marengo site. Still, the big question is why Boeyink, who touted his work with prominent Iowa companies such as the Iowa Fertilizer Co., would lend his credibility to C6-Zero and owner Howard Brand III, who had faced criminal charges in two states.
Boeyink did not return calls in the last week or respond to an email from The Gazette.
Inspectors kept out
Before permitting C6-Zero to recycle shingles in a Marengo warehouse, the Iowa DNR wanted to know exactly how the company planned to do this, what chemicals it would use and what waste might be created, according to emails going back to April 2022.
Brand was arrested in Iowa County in April 2021 to face criminal charges in Texas for illegal dumping of shingles. He also was convicted in Lake County, Montana, in 2011 of writing a bad check, records show. Colorado and Idaho officials had reached out to the Iowa DNR about environmental concerns with Brand's previous operations.
"Josh Sobaski of FO6 (Field Office 6) will be making a site visit to the facility in the coming days, maybe this week or early next week, just to get a feel for what's happening inside and at minimum, outside the facility," Levetzow told Marengo City Clerk Karla Marck in an April 7 email.
When Sobaski went to Marengo April 13, C6-Zero Attorney Tim Dore turned him away.
"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," Sobaski wrote.
Ryan Stouder, a senior air and solid waste program lead, stopped at C6-Zero in early May and also was not allowed inside, which prompted Levetzow to warn Iowa County Sheriff's Deputy Todd Sauerbrei he might seek a search warrant.
"Next time we go, we'll be getting a search warrant," Levetzow wrote May 13. "Todd — I'll be looking you up when that happens (if you don't mind)."
The Iowa DNR never applied for a search warrant at C6-Zero, Iowa County Sheriff Rob Rotter said.
GOP lobbyists step in
The state agency scheduled a video meeting with C6-Zero for May 26, at which time it expected answers about the Marengo operation. Boeyink wrote May 24 asking to be included.
"Gentleman. Wanted to alert you that LS2group has been retained by C6-Zero as they navigate the regulatory environment here in Iowa in order to allow them to start up their business in Marengo," Boeyink wrote to Alex Moon, Iowa DNR deputy director, and Ed Tormey, administrator of the agency's Environmental Services Division.
"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," Boeyink wrote. "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."
Also representing C6-Zero at the May 26 meeting was Chris Rants, a Republican who served in the Iowa House from 1993 through 2010 and as speaker of the House for four years. Rants, now a lobbyist with PolicyWorks, a West Des Moines firm, did not return an email or voicemail for this article.
C6-Zero withholds information
Tim Hall, hydrology resources coordinator for the Iowa DNR, took notes at the meeting.
Spent shingles would be delivered by semi truck or closed rail car and stored indoors, Hall noted in a May 27 email. To process up to 800 pounds of shingles a day, employees would put them on a conveyor belt, removing staples and trash, before the shingles went into a tank of liquid to "undergo an ambient temperature process of dissolution."
The goal was to recycle the shingles into components of oil, sand and fiberglass, which C6-Zero hoped to sell. Hall noted that while C6-Zero wanted to protect the recipe of its solvent, "confidentiality is not a valid reason to withhold specific chemical or process information from DNR staff."
Boeyink followed up with state officials after the meeting.
"On C6-Zero, I am well aware of the issues that have arisen in other states. Please trust that I would not have taken on this work if I wasn't convinced they are committed to doing things the right way here in Iowa," he told Levetzow May 27.
Boeyink in August invited state and local officials to tour the facility. First, he wanted them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to an Aug. 22 email.
"We do not sign NDAs," Tormey replied. "As you know there is a trade secret process under Iowa law, which would protect information received by the DNR from public disclosure."
Boeyink said C6-Zero was satisfied and the tour was scheduled for Nov. 9.
The Iowa DNR had not yet approved a permit for the site and was waiting for vital information, such as the ingredients of their solvent and how C6-Zero would filter air emissions, emails show.
October fire raises alarms
Just before 1 p.m. Oct. 25, sparks from a welding torch ignited a tank of diesel fuel at C6-Zero, causing a fire, according to a report by Iowa County Emergency Management Coordinator Josh Humphrey. He wrote to Elonda Bacon, who tracks large chemicals caches for the Iowa DNR as part of the federal Tier 2 program.
"I have a question about a facility in Marengo that I don't have a Tier 2 from and I believe they should be reporting," he wrote Oct. 26. "We had a fire there yesterday and it was interesting to say the least as we had no idea what was inside for sure."
When Levetzow asked Boeyink Oct. 27 about the blaze, Boeyink replied that "the fire was small and quickly contained."
State, county and local officials arrived Nov. 9 for the tour. They saw part of the facility, but before they could see an area with the conveyor belt and vats of chemicals, they were told there was a water leak and the rest of the tour would be rescheduled.
"I thought it was going well, up until the point they ushered us all out of the building at 1136 am," Levetzow wrote Nov. 9 to City Clerk Marck. "I thought that was quite bizarre. We had all sorts of questions to ask them, but didn't get the opportunity."
On Dec. 5, three days before the explosion, Levetzow wrote to Boeyink to see if he was still working for C6-Zero. Boeyink said yes.
Levetzow expressed concern C6-Zero didn't show the Iowa DNR the back end of operations and asked Boeyink to try to track down what chemicals were being used.
"The fire dept is still concerned with Tier 2 reporting as they still don't have any clue what sort of materials are stored inside the facility ... should another fire or spill occur ... they need to know what they're up against."
Boeyink replied the same day: "I will follow up with Tim on these items."
The Iowa DNR records search turned up no further emails to or from Boeyink after Dec. 5, the agency said. It's unclear whether he's still working for C6-Zero.
The Gazette asked C6-Zero how it got connected with Boeyink and what role he played for the company. Spokesman Mark Corallo did not reply to an email and voice message.