Preparations begin at old Farmland site

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 3, 2002

Last week, 10,000 square yards of dirt was piled as if it were the Great Wall of China at the east side of the old Farmland plant. It will be used to fill a big hole in the ground that will be created when crews demolish the building &045; but who will handle the demolition, and when, is still uncertain.

The dirt was provided by the city of Albert Lea from its James Avenue road improvement project. The dirt would have cost $35,000 to $40,000 if purchased, City Manager Paul Sparks explained.

The city is on the brink of enforcing the demolition order it obtained from a court early this year.

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Sparks said the city would pursue a further court action to advance the Dec. 1 deadline for Farmland to carry out the demolition. Once the deadline is passed, the city can begin the project by itself.

The city is willing to take over the demolition duty as soon as possible, Sparks said.

The structural integrity of the plant, heavily damaged by fire last July, is in question. Raw sewage discharged during a storm on July 21 poured into the plant’s storm water system, which creates a serious sanitary problem.

Waiting for December would result in a higher cost and a delay in the project because of the weather. The city already seized $2.25 million, which covers most of the demolition cost, by retaining part of the fire insurance proceeds paid to Farmland.

The city is also tired of hearing that Farmland’s plans for the stie have changed without enough explanation. Farmland informed the city that it would start the demolition in July. But the company delayed the schedule several times, and at present it has not even specified a date. Nobody in the city knows why.

The removal of the damaged plant has been hampered by a prolonged decision-making process by Farmland about whether to build a new plant in Albert Lea and get rid of the old plant, giving it and the site to the city. The city assembled an offer to swap the old site for a new one and take over the demolition.

But, first insurers who objected to a total loss claim, then Chapter 11 bankruptcy that took away the cooperative’s freedom to make decisions, have appeared to make the chance slimmer and slimmer that Farmland will come back to the city.

The city has been sensitive about pushing Farmland too much, hoping the company would accept the offer. But, now the city seems to have reformulated its stance. &uot;There is no antipathy to Farmland. But we can’t allow them to hurt the interests of the city,&uot; Sparks said.