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Archive for Wednesday, June 2, 2010

City could have prosecuted MagnaGro nearly three years ago

City code requires all businesses in town to be connected to city water; Company wasn’t

An R.G. Sawyer Ltd. semi-truck is backed up at the loading dock of MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St., Monday .The company is under investigation by a federal agency because of Thursday afternoon's double-fatality industrial accident.

An R.G. Sawyer Ltd. semi-truck is backed up at the loading dock of MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St., Monday .The company is under investigation by a federal agency because of Thursday afternoon's double-fatality industrial accident.

June 2, 2010, 6:11 p.m. Updated June 3, 2010, 9:17 a.m.

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In April, two workers died in an industrial accident at MagnaGro International’s Lawrence production facility.

MagnaGro could have been closed years ago

The city of Lawrence could have taken action to stop operations at MagnaGro years ago. The city is now taking steps toward possible fines for the company. Enlarge video

Come to find out, the city of Lawrence since 2007 has had legal options to punish and fine the oft-troubled facility for code violations, but chose not to do so.

That soon may change. After being questioned by the Journal-World about the matter, city leaders said Wednesday that they are preparing a case to prosecute the business for operating without city water or sewer service.

But now questions are emerging about whether the city should have taken action sooner.

“It probably has been allowed to go on too long,” said Mayor Mike Amyx. “It appears to me that we haven’t been getting any type of positive response.”

Trying to work it out

MagnaGro’s facility, 600 E. 22nd St., has been disconnected from city water and sewer service since 2007. City officials disconnected the building as federal agents descended upon the facility as part of an investigation into MagnaGro dumping improper waste into the sewer system. In 2009, the company was convicted of that activity and fined $240,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Toni Wheeler, the city’s director of legal services, confirmed that since 2007 the building has been out of compliance with the city’s property maintenance code, which requires working plumbing systems.

On Wednesday, a member of the city manager’s office acknowledged that despite the code violations the city had not taken the legal actions necessary to start assessing daily fines to the company or possibly require it to stop occupying the building until it came into compliance.

“Our goal is always to obtain compliance instead of pursuing options in the court system,” said Diane Stoddard, assistant city manager.

Stoddard said city officials did have several discussions with MagnaGro manager Raymond Sawyer, and were “hopeful” the property would be brought into compliance. The city contends a special monitoring device must installed in the facility before water and sewer service can be restored.

But when reached Wednesday by the Journal-World, Sawyer did not convey much hope. Sawyer called the city’s decision to disconnect his business a “knee-jerk reaction,” and said the city had damaged his property in the process.

“They are never going to turn it back on, so it doesn’t matter,” Sawyer said before abruptly hanging up.

Moving forward

Stoddard said the city now is preparing to take the company to Municipal Court to enforce the city code provisions.

“We would agree that in this case we have not been able to obtain compliance in the time frame that we would like,” Stoddard said.

The city’s code does not give any guidance on how long the city should work with a company or individual to gain compliance. But Stoddard acknowledged that staff members do not have the legal authority to simply allow a portion of the code to go unmet.

She said staff members were willing to give the MagnaGro case some time because it was determined that the property did have access to a temporary water supply through something similar to a bottled water service and that the facility was being served by a portable toilet.

“By not having the water and sewer service did not create an immediate health and safety concern that would cause us immediate alarm,” Stoddard said.

But Stoddard conceded the city was not doing regular inspections of the property to determine whether water was available on the site consistently during the nearly three-year period or whether the portable toilet was being kept up to proper standards.

The property has a checkered past. In addition to the EPA violations — which involved transferring waste from a holding basin to a restroom toilet — the facility has been the site of four chemical spills in the past six years.

Then in April, MagnaGro was the site of a double fatality industrial accident. Brandon Price, 25, and Roy Hillebert, 51, both were killed when they were overcome by a material being mixed at the site.

There is no evidence that the lack of city water or sewer service played a role in the incident.

“Certainly our staff was very concerned about what had occurred,” Stoddard said. “It certainly was a very sad situation. It is important to realize that as we were dealing with the issues with the water and sewer services, those were not immediate health and safety concerns. I don’t believe there is a direct tie between that incident and the industrial accident that happened.”

But Mayor Amyx said he knows there are questions about whether the company even would have been operating at the time of the accident had the city insisted the company comply with city code. He said he can understand why staff continued to try to work with the company.

“I’m going to be supportive of staff at this point,” Amyx said. “There probably always will be a question of how much time is too much time. But we try to work with businesses all the time to bring them into compliance on a lot of issues.”

A previous version of this story had a headline that wasn't fully supported by the article. While it's possible the city could have had MagnaGro shutdown three years ago, it's not certain the city would have been able to do so.

Comments

Phil Minkin 4 years, 5 months ago

I see a lot in comments how Lawrence is not "Business friendly". When things like this go on at a local level, or BP with nearly 700 violations with no repercussions, on a national level, one wonders about being too friendly rather than not friendly enough.

grimpeur 4 years, 5 months ago

"I see a lot in comments how Lawrence is not "Business friendly"."

Pack of lies. Ill-informed, pavlovian, wrong-headed, deliberate lies.

Deja Coffin 4 years, 5 months ago

This makes me upset because now I feel like more then ever these two lives could have been spared. Yes they would have lost their jobs but I know their family members would have rather that then lose them altogether.

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

No winners here. The deaths were very unfortunate, and probably preventable by either the management or the workers themselves, or both, but we'll need to see the OSHA report.

If the city pursues the code violations, the logical outcome is that the company quickly moves to a nearby town where it feels more comfortable making its organic/recycled fertilizer. Taking jobs, taxes, etc. with it. You decide if that's a good or a bad thing.

BruceWayne 4 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Tandava 4 years, 5 months ago

MagnaGro is not the only property in the City limits that is not hooked up to the City water service.

loriefoltz 4 years, 5 months ago

My Husband worked for MagnaGro for a short time, and in that short time he made a safety manual and tried so hard to make things safer. My Husband had come from Hercules and Farmland. He was Hazmat certified, a member of the Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, and had numerous safety certificates. In the end it was cheaper for Ray to let him go than to implement a safe working environment. We left Lawrence, the place where we raised our children because the decent jobs left. I wish we could say we were shocked to hear of this. Ray is not a stupid man and knew that the working conditions were not even close to safety standards but proving it in a court of law is a entirely different matter. When the LPD came calling asking my Husband questions about his time at MagnaGro he told them he was surprised this had not happened years ago. Roy was a good man and deserved a lot better than he got.

LogicMan 4 years, 5 months ago

"MagnaGro is not the only property in the City limits that is not hooked up to the City water service. "

Such as ... ? Don't include undeveloped lots, or those annexed/grandfathered with wells. Nor lots with just barns, dry warehouses/storage, etc. I and others would be very interested to learn of legitimate examples.

Kash_Encarri 4 years, 5 months ago

The mechanic - can't recall his name right now - working out of the old bus barn at 9th & Delaware- right next to Krause's house.

At least that was the case for quite a while. They couldn't get trash service because they weren't hooked up to city services so they'd dump their waste in the dumpsters belonging to neighboring businesses and the mechanics would run up to Hobbs Park to use the facilities.

thebigspoon 4 years, 5 months ago

Vantuyl motors on 6th street doesn't have running water either...

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

City Hall NOT following up on Magna Gro is rather reckless and irresponsible!!!

How were they allowed to slip under the radar? For so long????

Who do the owners know in City Hall?

Mark Zwahl 4 years, 5 months ago

In general, the city does not seem to have any teeth around codes and code enforcement. Developers submit site plans showing lots of trees and a space for cardboard recycling bin, but much of that may not show up when the project is built (and/or trees and shrubs die but are not replaced). The LJW should do some comparisons of approved site plans to reality and see what's out there. Again, point being that the city has the code or requirement but no consequence when its not met. This is yet another example of that lazy and fearful attitude.

Mark Zwahl 4 years, 5 months ago

In general, the city does not seem to have any teeth around codes and code enforcement. Developers submit site plans showing lots of trees and a space for cardboard recycling bin, but much of that may not show up when the project is built (and/or trees and shrubs die but are not replaced). The LJW should do some comparisons of approved site plans to reality and see what's out there. Again, point being that the city has the code or requirement but no consequence when its not met. This is yet another example of that lazy and fearful attitude.

workinghard 4 years, 5 months ago

Bet they enforce those codes on the little guy.

BruceWayne 4 years, 5 months ago

a perfect example of why Amyx should NOT be in office. He has done nothing for this city, yet is elected again and again.

somedude20 4 years, 5 months ago

Space, I dig the Merc Hippie remark! "Merc Hippie" definition- A person who takes up space at the Merc with neither a job nor a desire to get one but is able to find a way to live off of productive citizen's dime. They sit around all day and usually stink of patchouli oil to either cover up their pot smell or lack of personal hygiene and are loud and boisterous due to being drunk or just obnoxious. For reasons unknown, the Merc Hippie is able to live a longer life than his working counterpart much like a cockroaches and Cher does.

puddleglum 4 years, 5 months ago

you mean too little, too late.

waiting for some pilgrim to show up complaining about how anti-business lawrence is... ha!

just goes to show ya, the city let these guys get away with basically a chemical plant with no running water??? does that sound right to anyone???

no wonder they continually dumped their spent ammonia chloride in the street. They had no where else to do so.

I wonder if Merrill is correct: who was doing them favors inside city hall? does dicephera SUE HACK own shares in MagnaGro?

stay tuned, stay pretty

superduper 4 years, 5 months ago

Very unfortunate situation for those workers.

If the company is not hooked up to water how do the employees wash their hands, eat lunch, go to the bathroom etc. OSHA should have been all over them about the water issue. Eye rinse stations and showers are a must at any facility like this. I don't understand.
Didn't the business need a license to operate this type of facility?
You need a license to operate a hot dog cart don't you?

tolawdjk 4 years, 5 months ago

No city water?

What the heck do they do for fire suppression? Are they on a chemical suppressant system?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

The recycling operation on Haskell is probably getting by as well even though their contaminants are leaking to the soil located in a flood plain.

AND the zoning is actually residential.

Seems like follow up only comes by way of persistence of nearby citizens. Otherwise officals make an appearance,make a statement and life goes on. Rumor has it that the owner was quoted city hall would not be his problem nor his concern. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Point being that city hall is not respected by self determination.

Unfortunately these matters surface after crisis..... aka too late.

funkdog1 4 years, 5 months ago

Sooooo ... if they weren't hooked up to the city's sewer system, what exactly have they been doing with their waste????

BruceWayne 4 years, 5 months ago

makes me wonder how Mike and theboys plan on cleaning up that mess at Farmland. Maybe just a little Swiffering and some Fabreeze?

Danimal 4 years, 5 months ago

Sadly, the City of Lawrence screwing something up is just business as usual.

meggers 4 years, 5 months ago

somedude,

Way to take a fairly benign comment and insert your own prejudice five-fold. I suspect that you have never shopped at the Merc and your stereotype is based upon your experiences on Mass. Street, rather than those at that particular store. Or maybe your statements are just a regurgutation of what you have heard about "hippies" from whomever you call your friends.

For the record, I don't shop there, either. Not because the people there stink, I just can't afford to. When one stereotypes with such a broad brush-stroke, it only serves to illuminate the ignorance of a person working with only one color and one brush.

I'd advise you to actually experience the world, including people who are not like you, before sharing what you apparently view as "wisdom" with the rest of us.

Or, continue to proudly display your ignorance. Just recognize it for what it is- naive and uninformed bigotry.

somedude20 4 years, 5 months ago

Oh, I have been to the Merc, daily really as I grab lunch there. Funny to be advised by a "person" who is admittedly not a customer or rarely if ever goes there when I do and took what I saw/see and turned it into a "joke" that I thought was quite clear. Also, if you are unable to pick up on the sarcasm and humor in my rant, then maybe you should not breed, please!

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