Didion post-explosion

Officials of Didion Milling have vowed to rebuild the Cambria plant that exploded on May 31, resulting in the deaths of five people. The Cambria Village Board on Monday voted unanimously to invite company officials to discuss their rebuilding concept privately with selected village officials, including the fire chief and the public works director.


CAMBRIA — Officials of Didion Milling on Monday reiterated the company’s intent to rebuild the Cambria-based corn grinding operation that exploded on May 31, resulting in five deaths.

Village officials pondered how much public scrutiny of the construction plans would be desirable, necessary or legal.

The agenda for the monthly Cambria Village Board meeting on Monday included a “Didion update.”

Amy Jones, Didion’s human development and staffing business partner, told trustees that neither the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration nor Didion’s internal investigation has reached a conclusion about the cause of the explosion, which rocked Cambria at about 11:30 p.m. May 31.

The OSHA report, Jones said, is due by the end of November, and it likely will not be released until then. The internal investigation’s conclusion is likely to come out at about the same time, she said.

“Regardless of what comes out in the report, we will continue our rebuilding,” Jones said.

When Village President Glen Williams asked when Didion officials would have a plan for the rebuilt facility to present to village officials, Jones replied that the plan is not ready.

Later in the meeting, however, the Village Board voted unanimously to invite Didion officials to meet privately with village officials — including Fire Chief Cody Doucette (who also is a village trustee) and Public Works Director Tom Tietz — to present a concept for the rebuild, before finalizing building plans.

Rob Roth, who contracts with Cambria for engineering services, noted that the state open meetings law would require the meeting to be open to the public, with advance public notice, if a quorum of the Village Board or one of the Village Board’s committees were present at the meeting.

Plans had originally called for including Williams in the meeting. However, both Williams and Doucette are members of two different Village Board committees: administration and public service. Any meeting that includes both of them would require an open meeting notice and would have to be open to the public.

Frank said Tuesday that the situation is likely to be addressed by having Williams not attend the meeting, and having Doucette, Tietz, Roth and Fire Inspector Ryan Hart in the concept meeting.

Arrangements for the meeting had not been made as of Tuesday afternoon, and Frank said she did not know when the session would happen, or if Didion has a concept proposal ready to present.

“I don’t know when they’ll be ready for the plans,” she said.

Doucette said he doesn’t want to require Didion to go public with its plans, but he does want to address fire safety concerns — such as the placement of sprinklers and the height of the building — before the plans are finalized.

The area where the rebuild is proposed lies entirely in the village limits, so neither Columbia County nor a neighboring municipal government would have any say in the rebuilding plans.

Didion also operates Didion Ethanol, located in the neighboring town of Courtland, just across Cabbage Road from the milling plant. The ethanol plant is in full operation as the corn harvest continues.

Roth said if the final plans conform to the area’s industrial zoning, without requiring any variances or conditional use permits, the plans would have to be approved, possibly without public scrutiny — although Didion officials may choose to hold an open house to show the plans to the public.

Doucette said concrete footings already are being poured at the Didion site, to get them in before the snow flies.

That’s legal, Roth said, but it’s a risk for Didion.

State law, he said, allows companies to obtain permits for footings and foundations, but if village officials should reject the company’s rebuilding plans, the work would have to be torn out and redone, with the company bearing the cost.

Since 2008 — the year the ethanol plant began operations — Didion and the village have operated under a development agreement, covering issues such as traffic, safety and the environment. The extent to which that development agreement would apply to any plans to rebuild the milling operation remains to be seen, Doucette said.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde