Progress on Farmland slows

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

After weeks of waiting, negotiations between Farmland foods and the City of Albert Lea on demolition of the damaged plant and the land title have become much more difficult than expected.

“There are now more lawyers from creditor committees, and that has slowed the process,” said Paul Sparks, city manager, who has been trying to negotiate the deal for the last two weeks.

The city expected to hear a final decision weeks ago. They have been told many times that a decision would be made by a certain date, but those dates have come and gone without word.

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The city had a conference call with Farmland’s lawyers as well as lawyers from the creditor committees for Farmland.

The negotiations regard an agreement that Farmland had first proposed to the city council, and that the council had in turn passed and sent back.

The agreement would give the city $3 million of Farmland’s insurance money to cover the costs of demolition. The demolition was to start as early as Oct. 1 and the land was to be given to the city at a nominal cost after the demolition. In exchange, the city would handle environmental cleanup on the polluted site.

Sparks said the agreement is sound for the city and for Farmland, but said the added lawyers representing the different creditor committees are now looking for flaws in the agreement. Because of Farmland’s bankruptcy, the creditors must approve any deal.

“Right now they are poking around to see if we have a soft spot in our armor,” said Sparks. He added that there really is no “soft spot” and that if the agreement were to be denied by the other parties, the benefit would be to the city.

According to Sparks, Farmland will be forced by a court order to see through and pay for the demolition of the old building if nothing is agreed to. The costs and liabilities will all be in Farmland’s lap at that point, he added.

If the agreement goes through, the city would pay for the demolition, estimated at $2.5 million, using the $3 million in insurance proceeds. If there are any costs above that, which the city believes is unlikely, the city would be responsible.

The city and the Farmland bankruptcy parties have a conference call set for Friday afternoon to work further on a deal.

Farmland public relations representative Sherlyn Manson said the bankruptcy court may have their hearing on the agreemen as late as Oct. 8.

Sparks said he hopes that some deal will come out of the negotiations sooner than that. He remains positive that they will close a deal in the near future.