Magnida fertilizer plant on track despite concerns

by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer

Editor’s note: ConAgra LambWeston did make comments to The Press, but not in time for the print edition. The print edition article appears below. ConAgra’s comments will appear in next week’s edition of The Press.

The leader of the proposed Magnida fertilizer plant said plans are coming together well with one exception.

On Monday, April 21, Magnida received an air permit from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Magnida Chairman Ric Sorbo said receiving the permit is a significant step forward.

“We are very pleased that IDEQ issued our air permit, which is a major step for us. It is yet another validation that we are building an efficient and environmentally responsible facility,” said Sorbo.

In the process of securing the air permit the IDEQ offers a public comment period for expressed purpose of addressing concerns and questions about the effect a proposed project will have. Among the comments sent to the IDEQ during that period were several concerning the effects the fertilizer manufacturing plant will have on the ConAgra Lamb Weston potato processing facility.

Sorbo described ConAgra’s comments as falling under the general categories of potential nuisance odors, water availability, dust and food quality or safety.

According to Sorbo the IDEQ addressed ConAgra’s concerns pertinent to the air quality permit. The IDEQ also stated that some of the concerns were outside the scope of the air permitting process.

Calls to the IDEQ, ConAgra’s corporate office, Lamb Weston and the Idaho Conservation League were not returned before The Press deadline.

ConAgra has a short window to appeal the permit, but Sorbo is confident any appeal to the permit would be struck down.

“We are very confident the State of Idaho will prevail in dismissing any appeals to the permit,” Sorbo said.

He said Magnida has no intention of abandoning the project.

“We are going to go as far as we have to keep the permit. We are 120 percent confident the permit is defensible. This project has never been so far down the road. We are leading the nation in developing a fertilizer production facility and we want to keep that lead,” Sorbo said.

While Sorbo believes strongly that an appeal would not remove or change the permit that has been issued he is also not closing the door to communicating with Magnida’s neighbors.

“We are continuing to keep an invitation open to sit down with ConAgra to talk about possible solutions,” said Sorbo.

Recently ConAgra accepted the invitation to talk about concerns they have. The meeting organized by the Idaho Department of Commerce and attended by Magnida and ConAgra representatives as well as members of the IDEQ.

According to Sorbo the group attempted to address each concern ConAgra brought up. Sorbo presented scientific data to demonstrate Magnida would not adversely affect Lamb Weston operations.

“We have always said a modern, nitrogen based fertilizer plant does not smell. We provided Lamb Weston with scientific information clearly proving they will not be able to detect odors from our facility,” said Sorbo.

Among the suggestions made by ConAgra was to move the site of the proposed fertilizer plant a few miles farther away from Lamb Weston. Sorbo said the idea of moving the project was not possible.

“During their comments Lamb Weston requested Magnida relocate the plant to a location several miles away. We explained that was not an option because of the time and expense for finding an appropriately zoned area, redoing all of the engineering that has been conducted as well as all of the infrastructure design, permitting and other activities associated with a project like this,” said Sorbo.

Sorbo reiterated his willingness to continue the dialogue with ConAgra.

“While we are confident the air permit and research behind it is solid we are still open to working with our neighbors to find solutions.  American Falls has history of creating solutions and creating jobs from relocating the entire town to welcoming Lamb Weston many years ago. I am certain that tradition will continue,” Sorbo said.

Apart from concerns voiced by Lamb Weston, Sorbo said the Magnida project is progressing well and the development team has no intention of slowing down.

“We intend to continue developing the project with the same vigor and enthusiasm we have so far,” he said.

Sorbo said the Magnida team had been meeting with lenders to secure financing for the project.

“We are very close to selecting a lead bank for the project,” Sorbo said.

According to Sorbo the selection of a leading bank for the project will help complete the financial picture for Magnida.

“The way this will work is the lead bank only makes their money if the project is a ‘go’. The lead bank will become one of our partners in securing the full financing by working with other lenders to complete the financing package,” said Sorbo.

Along with being optimistic about securing the money needed for the plant Sorbo said the general contractors, Bechtel and KBR, are on track to submit bids for the project on time.

“We feel very good about the progress and we are confident we will be able to work through all of the challenges that come with a project of this side,” Sorbo said.

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