Plant must be demolished this year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2002

In a chamber packed with displaced Farmland workers, the city council adopted a resolution ordering the demolition of the Farmland plant after a public hearing Monday.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

In a chamber packed with displaced Farmland workers, the city council adopted a resolution ordering the demolition of the Farmland plant after a public hearing Monday.

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The order defines the plant as a hazardous structure and mandates Farmland Foods and other right holders to raze and remove all the buildings within the 2002 construction season.

The city reserves the right to file a court action to enforce the demolition, if Farmland would fail in responding to the order within 20 days.

The order also says if the city were compelled to conduct the demolition, all necessary costs would be assessed to the company.

During the hearing, Fire Chief Richard Sydnes explained a chronology of the city’s commitment to correct the hazardous state of the plant even before the fire last July.

Sydnes showed his concern about structural and environmental safety. He pointed out a recent break-in incident by three men. &uot;I don’t want to see somebody get hurt,&uot; Sydnes said.

About 40 displaced Farmland workers filled the council hall, anxious to hear any news about the company’s plan.

But the company’s official expected to appear was not present.

Sparks said Farmland did not send anybody because the company had basically no objection to the resolution. &uot;The city and Farmland agreed that the plant is economically beyond the possibility of repair. We are not fighting, but we are cooperating to deal with the problem,&uot; he said.

Farmland’s Corporate Communications Director Sherlyn Manson said: &uot;We are continuing the communication with the city. The city knows where we are. And we are doing our best to move forward just as quickly as possible.&uot;

Manson said the company has already spent nearly $1 million on engineering study for its future operation in Albert Lea. &uot;We still have a strong bias toward Albert Lea,&uot; she said, reiterating what the company has been saying.

Roger Holland, one of the displaced workers, spoke up during the hearing, asking about the status of the negotiation between the city and Farmland regarding the plant reopening.

Sparks explained the stalling insurance negotiation is due to the Sept. 11 attack. Six out of eight insurance firms involved were hurt by the attack, according to him. And Farmland cannot specify its vision without confirmation of the insurance proceeds.

The Farmland workers were disappointed to hear no concrete news about the reopening.

&uot;The company has informed us nothing so far. There should be some explanations,&uot; Holland, who worked at the plant for 30 years, said.

Some Hispanic employees, who made up 65 percent of the total workforce of the plant, were also among the audience.

Narciso Tamayo said he is anxious to know if the plant will come back.

&uot;The last payment of my unemployment insurance was last week. I am looking for a job around here, but have not found one,&uot; he said. After being in Albert Lea for three years with five children and wife, moving is a difficult option for him.

Some job training programs are still available even after the insurance benefit dried up. But he said, &uot;I have to feed my kids, and have no luxury to attend such classes.&uot;

The demolition order is directed to all parties involved in the property: Seaboard, the legal owner; Farmland Foods, the lessee with a purchase contract; and CoBank, mortgagor.

Farmland is in the process of completing the purchase from Seaboard, according to the city.

The council also gave City Manager Paul Sparks permission to proceed with a contract with Farmland to confirm that the city would hold up to 25 percent of the insurance payment for the demolition project.

Sparks said the city would impose the hold against future payments.

Farmland has an $89 million insurance claim against eight different firms. The insurance companies have already paid $5 million for the initial cleanup cost.

Currently the company is negotiating for $10 million more to cover product losses. The city will refrain from claiming a 25 percent lien for this portion of the insurance. The contract intends to formalize the city’s right for the rest of payment.