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Chemical Firm Abandons Plan to Move Plant to City of Industry

February 09, 1989|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

A chemical distribution firm has announced that it will abandon plans to move to the City of Industry, avoiding what had promised to be a lengthy battle with residents in nearby Walnut.

Van Waters & Rogers Inc., the nation's largest chemical distributor, had planned to build a $20-million facility on 30.7 acres south of the intersection of Valley Boulevard and the Grand Avenue extension. But on Monday, Univar Corp., the firm's Seattle-based parent company, released a statement saying it would remain in the City of Commerce.

The statement was cheered by Walnut residents and elected officials, who were organizing in hopes of blocking the company's attempts to obtain the various permits needed to complete the move. The Walnut City Council, which had not taken an official stance, had been expected to formally oppose the project at its meeting Wednesday.

The proposed plant, which had been approved by the Industry City Council, would have been built barely 1,000 feet from neighborhoods in Walnut.

"I had hoped that we would win," Walnut Councilman Thomas Sykes said. "It's nice to have it up front, without a fight.

5,000 Signatures

"I was personally never too thrilled with the location of that plant. If two council members agreed with me, I'm sure we would have suited up for battle."

Resident Laura Orozco, a member of the Walnut Valley Environmental Action Committee, a homeowners group that had gathered signatures from 5,000 residents opposed to the plant, welcomed the news.

"I'm thrilled. I just don't think that that kind of industry belongs next to tract homes," she said.

Industry officials could not be reached for comment.

Univar spokeswoman Valerie Winslow said the company felt that it could not commit to building a facility in Industry considering the uncertain outcome of a battery of local, state and federal legislative requirements. For instance, she said, the company is reviewing proposals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which could alter its future operations.

"The company felt that those kinds of things just raise a lot of questions about how to best do business in the L.A. area," she said. "Until some of those things are resolved, the company decided it was better to wait and see what happens."

Winslow stressed that it was a business decision, and that the company had not caved in to community opposition.

"We didn't have any doubt about being able to locate a facility in Industry if we wanted to," Winslow said. "When making this kind of a decision, you weigh all the factors. The community concern was one of them, but not the main one."

Despite Van Waters & Rogers' good safety record and the opinion of a chemical engineer hired by Walnut who said the plant could operate safely, the project had created an uproar in Walnut and Diamond Bar. The Walnut citizens group had rallied support within the community and Walnut officials had contacted state legislators in hopes of enlisting their aid to prevent the move.

As word of the project spread, some Walnut residents became critical of the council for not taking a stand when it first became aware of the project last summer.

In April, the Industry City Council approved Van Waters & Rogers' plans based on a negative declaration by the City Council, meaning city staff determined that the plant's environmental effects would be negligible. In a report to the Walnut City Council, City Atty. Scott Nichols indicated that Walnut could go to court to force a full environmental impact report if the company or Industry was unwilling to perform one.

Middleman Operation

As envisioned, the plant would have had up to 35 above-ground storage tanks, a fleet of 30 trucks and about 250,000 feet of warehouse and office space. The company, basically a middleman operation, imports chemicals and repackages them in smaller quantities for shipment to industrial customers in Southern California.

Annual sales were projected to be $125 million, and the plant was expected to employ 230 people.

Daniel McCaskill, a Van Waters & Rogers vice president, said the firm has no immediate plans for the Industry site, but will probably sell it. The company, which has 100 plants throughout the United States, purchased the land for $10 million last year.

McCaskill said the company will continue to look for another site for its Western headquarters, possibly in a more remote area.

"What we're looking at is down the road in the mid-1990s and beyond," he said. "We feel we have plenty of time to go out an find an alternate site that will meet our needs and the community needs."

Debra DeLong, a spokeswoman for the Walnut citizens group, said residents still want confirmation of the company's decision.

"We anticipate receiving a copy of (the company's) letter to the City of Industry notifying them of their abandonment of this land-use permit," read a statement released by DeLong.

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