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The Agrium fertilizer plant on Channel Drive in West Sacramento, as seen from a Southport levee

News-Ledger Editorial Opinion from Dec. 29, 2010

  The twin-domed Agrium facility is by far West Sacramento’s largest handler of hazardous materials. It holds primarily anhydrous ammonia, which forms a dangerous gas when released. The plant is situated on Channel Drive, near the barge canal that divides the northern and southern halves of the city.

  It’s always worth stressing that Agrium is a well-run fertilizer plant that gets high marks for safety and professionalism, both from the local fire department and others who have visited the plant. Agrium has a good safety record (we reported several minor injuries from a small accident this year).

  A major accident involving the escape of tons of anhydrous ammonia is improbable.

  On the other hand:

  If there were a major accident, many West Sacramento residents and employees could potentially be endangered.

  The plant has changed owners several times in its four decades of history, and could be sold again at any time to owners unknown.

  City officials never really had a say in locating the plant within city limits in the 1970s, as there were no West Sacramento city limits at that time. This area was still an unincorporated part of Yolo County.

  Ammonia is sometimes stored in rail cars parked next to West Sacramento neighborhoods, and federal anti-terrorism laws prevent us from knowing exactly where and to what extent those cargoes are being parked.     The plant already has a valid permit to operate. But next month, the Port of West Sacramento (which is controlled by West Sacramento and its city council) will vote on renewing a lease, for 20 years, of waterfront property used by Agrium as a shipping wharf.

  The News-Ledger has often opined that current city officials should take responsibility, with an “up or down vote,” for any decision that keeps the Agrium plant in operation within West Sacramento for decades into the future. The upcoming discussion about the 20-year land lease is as good a time as any for that policy decision.

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