What will it take for Lawrence city officials to close down MagnaGro International?
The company, which produces fertilizer, has been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for dumping improper waste into the city’s sewer system. The city disconnected sewer and water service to the company’s facility at 600 E. 22nd St. in 2007 so it has been operating illegally without those services for more than two years. It is in violation about a dozen fire codes and has refused to allow a full fire inspection of its premises for years.
The city has documented that the firm is illegally storing large quantities of flammable materials, which could pose a public risk in case of a fire or explosion. The fact that two MagnaGro workers died in April after being overcome by fumes while mixing material at the site provides strong evidence that something is amiss at the plant.
And yet, city officials continue to say that the owners may be allowed to continue operating their business after Thursday’s deadline if “they are moving toward compliance.”
This company has had plenty of time to “move toward compliance.” The only way the city of Lawrence will get the attention of MagnaGro’s owner is to shut the business down and require all city code violations to be corrected before it can resume operation.
Part of the problem, city administrators say, is that the city’s codes aren’t specific about how long companies should be given to correct violations. It’s certainly appropriate to give businesses a reasonable amount of time to correct code violations, but the city’s patience shouldn’t extend for more than two years, during which there has been no evidence MagnaGro is trying to address its problems.
Lawrence city commissioners need to take another look at enforcement provisions in the city codes to make sure officials have sufficient authority — and a clear deadline — to force code compliance. If the laws don’t have the teeth to allow property enforcement, they need to be corrected.
In the meantime, the city manager and his staff need to let MagnaGro’s owner know that his grace period has run out. The company has had ample time to correct violations while remaining in operation. It’s time to close this business down until it corrects all of its code violations, opens its doors to the appropriate inspectors and demonstrates it can function as a responsible corporate citizen in the city of Lawrence.