September 14, 1995 in Nation/World

Ordinance Doesn’t Apply To Rimrock Explosives Plant Established Before Laws Written

Eric Torbenson And Julie Titone S Wind Staff writer
 

Only the barest ordinance regulates explosives operations in Kootenai County. Rimrock Explosives Inc., a subsidiary of a nationwide explosives manufacturer, doesn’t have to meet even that.

Rimrock Explosives is not regulated locally because plant operations began before regulations were written.

The company is owned by Explosives Technologies Inc. of Wilmington, Del., a nationally known explosives maker.

The Hayden company manufactures a combination of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, an explosive used commonly in mining, logging and construction.

It also is the type of explosive that destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building in April.

Records at the Portland office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms show that the Rimrock plant has a license to manufacture the most dangerous explosives - called “high end” explosives by the ATF, said John Daffron, area supervisor for regulatory enforcement.

“It’s the highest level license we issue from here,” he said. Other ETI plants in the West also have the same permit.

Rimrock does not file the routine safety guarantees that Kootenai County ordinances require of all explosive manufacturers.

But the operation is legal, said county planning director Cheri Howell. That’s because the plant apparently existed before the zoning ordinance passed in 1973, she said.

Under the ordinance, explosives storage and manufacturing plants are permitted in industrial and rural zones. The premises must be at least 10 acres.

Although the operation changed hands in 1993, the “grandfather” status still applies because the plant operations did not change.

In the wake of Wednesday’s fire scare, county commissioners will take a close look at the regulations, said chairman Dick Compton.

“It’s something we need to understand better, and in the next few days I intend to get the full story,” said Compton, who said he was taken aback by the amount of explosives at the site. “For me to say more than that would be premature.”

While the plant had permits to make the most powerful types of explosives, Daffron said that only the ammonium nitrate mixture is produced there. The explosive is labeled a “blasting agent” in the eyes of the ATF, and blasting agents must be detonated by other explosives.

However, Daffron said the company can store high-end explosives in special magazines and sell them. Daffron said there likely are some of these kinds of high-powered explosives stored at the Rimrock plant.

The ETI subsidiary president in Spokane, Ron Baldwin, declined to answer questions. An ETI news release briefly described the fire and the employees’ response.

The company has a license to manufacture and sell explosives until February 1998, Daffron said. The plant is inspected by ATF officials from Portland every year. Rimrock passed its most recent inspection in June, Daffron said.

To get a federal explosives license, company officials’ backgrounds are checked for any criminal record.

The facilities and site are examined by ATF inspectors. The plant must be a certain distance from homes, and the Rimrock plant met those distance standards, Daffron said.

The standards vary, depending on what’s made at the plant and how much, he added.

Hayden Lake Fire District officials said Wednesday that the company always has met the city’s fire standards and been cooperative in inspections and training.

Blasting agents also are made elsewhere in the Inland Northwest.

Locally, Hecla Mining Co. buys explosives for its Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan through ICI Explosives USA in Spokane, said Vicki Veltkamp, manager of corporate communications for Hecla.

Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. does not buy explosives from Rimrock.

Rimrock Explosives previously was known as Beattie Explosives Inc. Coeur d’Alene resident George Beattie sold the explosives plant five years ago.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE ORDINANCE Kootenai County’s zoning ordinance on explosives storage and manufacture reads, in its entirety: “The operator of such a use shall furnish a suitable guarantee (bond) that the activity or processing in question will not constitute a nuisance or be in any way detrimental to the health or safety of persons residing in the area, working, or passing by such a proposed use. Said guarantee will be renewed each two years providing the operation is not in violation of this ordinance.”

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Eric Torbenson and Julie Titone Staff writers Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE ORDINANCE Kootenai County’s zoning ordinance on explosives storage and manufacture reads, in its entirety: “The operator of such a use shall furnish a suitable guarantee (bond) that the activity or processing in question will not constitute a nuisance or be in any way detrimental to the health or safety of persons residing in the area, working, or passing by such a proposed use. Said guarantee will be renewed each two years providing the operation is not in violation of this ordinance.”

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Eric Torbenson and Julie Titone Staff writers Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email