Turnaround a good sign for peninsula

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2005

Just when we think we could lose one of the Kenai Peninsula’s major employers, the Agrium Task Force announces the company is seeking bids on a $2 million “turnaround” maintenance program planned for this winter.

This is good news, indeed.

While there is no confirmation from Agrium spokeswoman Lisa Parker that this means the company plans to stick around longer than the estimated November 2006 shutdown date, it’s hard to believe such an effort would be wasted on the plant for only one more year’s worth of operations.

Task force co-chair Bob Favretto is encouraged by the fact that Agrium will invest the $2 million for the turnaround project. He said had the facility closed, this investment would not have been made.

The maintenance calls for the plant to shut down parts of its operations for overhauling, and the process generally takes 10 days. That’s a lot of work for less than one year’s worth of production.

Parker said Agrium is working to get more contracts and keep pushing the closing date. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get rid of the date altogether, but pushing it beats closing it for now. Look how far they’ve gotten already.

In addition, Favretto says it’s time for the task force to move in a new direction.

“We’ve pretty much done what we were tasked to do. I told the task force it was time to transition into some sort of body of people who would move forward into other resources issues in Cook Inlet, not just Agrium,” he told the Clarion this week.

And while he doesn’t believe there has ever been a group specifically dedicated to those issues, he thinks if one were formed — and included industry officials — the resulting dialogue could help address problems, such as Agrium’s, before they ever reach the level of alarm we’ve seen in the last year.

When Gov. Frank Murkowski announced his plan to create the task force in December, there were skeptics, but it’s hard to argue the result of the steps taken since its inception. The fact that the group is talking about venturing off into other areas in a proactive manner rather than a reactive one is encouraging.

Now that the group has made the list of recommendations, the ball is back in Murkowski’s court.

Included on that list is a request that the state and federal governments continue efforts on behalf of the workers who will be impacted, and that the state commission a study of the long-term economic effects on the Cook Inlet gas production, transmission and distribution system and the communities it serves should some of the industrial and utility users close.

We hope we never have to see the results of such a study come to life, but the reality is we’ve already come pretty close, and we don’t know what lies ahead.

Given the process so far, though, we are optimistic that all those involved are working for the good of the state, as well as the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet area. It has to be a team effort or we all fail.

Still, considering Agrium was looking at its final days just a few months ago, we applaud the task force for its efforts and hope it will continue on its positive path.

One can’t help but wonder what’s down the road, but at this rate, we’re pulling for more good news.

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