Although it came as the year was waning, the official announcement of Agrium's closing quickly rose to the top of the list as the number one story in the year 2004. Last week with Channel 2 TV news cameras present at the first Soldotna Chamber of Commerce meeting of the New Year, Agrium spokespersons familiar to most everyone in the capacity crowd addressed the details of the shut down. Lisa Parker, former Kenai Peninsula Borough planning commissioner, her voice choking with emotion, explained that despite their best efforts to avoid it, Agrium would be closing the Nikiski Nitrogen Products plant as announced last month. With sincere appreciation Parker thanked the community and its officials for their unwavering support and efforts to avoid the shut down, but added that only a miracle could avoid that at this time, "Based on the extensive research and study of seismic and geophysical data that we've done, we don't see that miracle occurring," stated Parker. "Does Agrium look at maybe in 10 years coming back to the Peninsula? I'm encouraging the company to keep their options open and maybe we'll come back and maybe with a newer plant, but that's down the road farther than we can see now," added Parker. Jim Senn, Business Support Manager for Agrium, explained that the shutdown was being done with the idea that the plant will not be restarted.
After on going efforts Agrium has been unable to secure a viable, low-cost gas supply for the plant that they purchased some four years ago. "Agrium has talked with every producer, every lease holder in Cook Inlet, and there are in excess of 50, in efforts to work out a mechanism to develop gas prospects for the Kenai facility," said Parker. According to Parker, Agrium will be going to extensive efforts to help their employees transition to other jobs, "It's been a long time since any of these folks have had to interview for a job, so we're bringing in a professional firm to assist with resume writing and interviewing skills to help prepare them. We're also contacting employers here on the Peninsula and other parts of the State to try and find positions for our displaced workers. We'll be having a job fair as well, either at the plant or the cultural center." said Parker.
Former State Senator John Torgerson, who served as chairman of the Senator Resource Committee, was asked to share his comments regarding Agrium's closure at the Chamber meeting and had three points to suggest, "One is to challenge the methodology that our regulatory commission for the State of Alaska uses to set the price of natural gas, which is basically based on numbers used in the lower 48 which has nothing to do with the economics of the Cook Inlet basin. Second is to create a natural resource court of appeals between the Superior Court and the Supreme Court that could expedite law suits that may come up against development projects of any nature. And thirdly to be sure that our focus on getting the North Slope gas to market is bringing it to South Central Alaska. I think we should build a gas line to South Central with a spur line to Chicago," said Torgerson
Anxieties about the effects of Agrium's closing are being immediately felt throughout the community, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District superintendent Dr. Donna Peterson was present at the meeting Tuesday and commented following the presentation, "We're one of some 30 families that came up with the plant 16 years ago, our community is tied to it, these are our friends and neighbors that are involved and as we discuss the numbers and scenarios I don't want to loose sight of that, but I also don't want to see panic, people choose to live on the Peninsula for lots of different reasons and while we have to deal with these situations as they come up and problem solve, we are a broad based community. Agrium has been a wonderful corporate neighbor to us in our school district and throughout our communities, we have about 143 students spread from K through 12th grade mainly in the Central Peninsula that have a parent that works for Agrium, and that doesn't include service related industries that might be effected. So we'll be planning, waiting and watching and using accurate information to make projections as we prepare the '06 budget," said Peterson. "I encourage everyone and Agrium itself not to give up. The Governor is appointing a task force with local representation and I hope that has a chance to work and collectively come up with a way to keep the jobs here," concluded John Torgerson.
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