By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
MILFORD — A deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas has resulted in a company building a fertilizer retail/distribution center along the Elkhart-Kosciusko county line saying that such a disaster is unlikely to occur here.
Trupointe, an agriculture cooperative based in Piqua, Ohio, said this week that its fertilizer and grain center is much different than the Texas plant, which had explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer on site.
“The west Texas scenario is very, very different than the sort of business at Trupointe that we will run in Milford,” said Mike Jackson, marketing and strategy officer for the company. “...The blast profile there looks to us as if it was made by ammonium nitrate. It is a form of fertilizer, but not used, made or stored by Trupointe. So, from a safety standpoint, Trupointe has a much safer product risk profile...”
Trupointe is just starting to move earth on 250 acres of former farmland along C.R. 1400 North, east of Old Ind. 15.
The complex will be serviced by a rail loop that will allow freight trains, according to Jackson, to off load potash and phosphates that are used to fertilize farm fields and to ship out large amounts of local grains during harvests. The loop will connect the east-west CSX line and the north-south Norfolk-Southern line that intersect at Milford Junction at the southwest corner of the property.
Safety is a big concern of the company, Jackson said, and workers at each of the co-op’s sites in Ohio and Indiana undergo monthly training for products that are on those sites.
Jackson said the company does sell one substance that can be hazardous to humans, anhydrous ammonia. That common farm fertilizer product is a non-flammable corrosive substance that will be secured in fenced areas, most likely topped with razor wire. Jackson said the problem with anhydrous ammonia is not so much the hazard of the compound, but that people who make the illegal drug methamphetamine steal it to use as one ingredient in the chemistry of the drug.
He said the plant will mix fertilizer compounds on site, but those will dry products that are mixed with water so they can be sprayed on farm fields.
“That is a normal practice. Everyone in the agribusiness does the same,” Jackson said. “For us, by having this state-of-the art facility, we are able to do those things without concern of equipment failures and those sorts of things, because it’s a new facility.”
Not much concern
Doug Ruch spends his days under the hoods and bodies of broken cars. He operates an auto mechanic business along Ind. 15 in Milford, about two miles from the new plant site. In his spare time he serves as the Town Council president and has been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years. He said he has not heard any negative comments about the Trupointe plant since the Texas blast. But there are a lot of positives.
“It is going to bring a tremendous amount of economic benefit and jobs to the area,” Ruch said.
Jackson said the plant will provide up to 70 jobs, as well as providing local farmers a place to sell their grains and buy their fertilizers.
Ruch said Trupointe officials are concerned about safety and have begun talking to local emergency officials about training them on processes and equipment at the plant. The first phase of construction, which is the fertilizer portion, is expected to be completed in 2014. After that grain storage will be added.
“Trupointe is making training available once they get construction going,” Ruch said.
The state of Indiana does not require safety plans for fertilizer plants, according to several Indiana media outlets. Such plants are under the jurisdiction of the state chemist’s office.
On the local level, Ed Rock, emergency management manager for Kosciusko County, said the county’s emergency personnel meet often to exchange information and to plan for emergency scenarios.
“We have a huge, active firemen’s association in the county as well as another one of just the chiefs, who meet on a regular basis and discuss what needs to happen (in emergencies),” Rock said.
He said the county’s emergency plan does not address any specific companies, but is an overall plan to coordinate response by emergency agencies.
“What we are more interested in is interaction on a major incident so we don’t have duplicate or redundance of effort,” Rock said. “(It’s about) How we are going to manage an efficient response.”
He said individual fire and police departments develop their own plans based on facilities in their communities.
“I can assure you, once it is operational the Milford Fire Department will be knocking on their door and saying ‘What do you have there?” Rock said.
Steve and Mary Hofstetter live in a farmhouse on six acres of land with their four children at the corner of C.R. 1400 North and C.R. 100 East. To them their rural, quiet life is threatened by the construction of the Trupointe plant across the road.
Steve Hofstetter said when he learned the plant would be built, which was way before the Texas blast, he talked to a Trupointe official about the family’s concerns over noise, air and water pollution, their property value and the loss of their quiet, rural way of life, which included intangibles, such as the nightly view of sunsets to the west.
“We are concerned about an explosion, but also the average every day smell and things we will experience,” Steve Hofstetter said.
He said he offered to sell the farmstead to Trupointe as a way of financing the family’s relocation, but an official said the company was not interested.
“All the concerns I had and shared had nothing to do with explosions. I would still have all those concerns even if there was no explosion concern,” he said.