Ric Sorbo

Ric Sorbo

    AMERICAN FALLS — Magnida Magnolia Nitrogen is moving forward with its plans to build a $1.5 billion fertilizer plant near the Lamb-Weston potato processing plant in Power County with additional zeal following a Division of Environmental Quality hearing officer’s decision on complaints filed by ConAgra, the parent company of Lamb-Weston.

    “We’re quite happy with the outcome,” said Magnida chairman Ric Sorbo. “All systems are go, and we’re right where we want to be.”

    The proposed $1.5 billion fertilizer plant project would create 1,900 construction jobs annually during its three-year construction phase, each paying an average yearly salary of around $59,000, according to the company based in Houston, Texas. Once the plant’s operational, nearly 300 people would work there earning an average annual salary of around $56,000.

    Although the state DEQ had given the project an air quality permit, ConAgra had challenged that permit because it said it was concerned about undesirable air emissions, emergency preparedness, wastewater and water quality issues the new plant might create. It also challenged the extension of an air quality permit that the DEQ initially issued in 2002.

    The new 550-acre fertilizer plant would be constructed near the Lamb-Weston facility, which has operated in the heavy industrial zone west of American Falls for more than four decades.

    Magnida has already received bids from Bechtel and KBR-Kiewit for the engineering and construction of the fertilizer plant, and Sorbo said the target for securing all the necessary financing is still the end of this year.

    “There’s money out there looking for terrific projects, and this is a terrific project,” Sorbo said.

    In his findings, hearing officer Michael Kane, a Boise attorney, found that ConAgra’s concerns were without legal merit.

    The findings of fact and conclusions of law issued on Sept. 15, found that the DEQ had the authority to extend the air quality permit and had consulted with the EPA before doing so.

    “It is clear that DEQ had the ability to extend the permit as a matter of discretion and that there is nothing in the record indicating that the discretion was abused or is otherwise irrational,” Kane wrote.

    Kane also said ConAgra’s claims of harm to its property were “speculative.”

    “The statute is clear that a substantial right of an aggrieved party must be prejudiced, not a potential right based upon what appears to be little more than suspicion,” Kane wrote in his decision.

    ConAgra’s concerns about odors from the fertilizer plant operation were also addressed by Kane. He said the DEQ permit requires Magnida to keep a record of all odor complaints received and act on any problems quickly, adding the DEQ has the power to stop violations and fine the company.

    “ConAgra’s expert’s suggestion to the effect that the permit should be vacated with directions that DEQ write an odor management plan is essentially a request for DEQ staff to invent an odor management plan on the fly,” Kane wrote. “Since there is no basis found in DEQ rules for such an action, Magnida would have the ability to enjoin DEQ from doing so.”

    As for ConAgra’s concerns about particulate matter being emitted from the new fertilizer plant, Kane found that Magnida’s proposed particulate matter impacts are “within those called for in the regulations involving the Prevention of Significant Deterioration.”

    Kane also ruled that ConAgra’s assertions about excessive nitrogen oxide emissions were without merit.

    “There is no information from their (ConAgra’s) expert to the effect that the emissions from Magnida’s plant (beyond Iowa’s limits but below Idaho’s) would affect the health and safety of ConAgra’s employees or affect its food products,” Kane wrote.

    The Division of Environmental Quality Board will now act on the findings of the hearing officer, but Sorbo said he’s optimistic.

    “ConAgra should realize we have a responsible fertilizer plant and work to be good neighbors,” Sorbo said. “I’m confident we can be good neighbors.”