New Cargill Refinery Lengthens Odds Against Imperial's Recovery

Imperial Sugar CEO and President John Sheptor expressed optimism in a recent interview that the company's damaged sugar mill in Port Wentworth, Ga., may be rebuilt, but the odds against the company are significant, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday. The report cited potential wrongful death lawsuits and two federal investigations of the Feb. 7 explosion that devastated the plant. But the toughest competition is distant and economic in nature.

Louisiana Sugar Refining, LLC will break ground tomorrow for a million-ton-per-year sugar refinery adjacent to Cargill's 200-acre riverfront complex in Reserve, La., and this spells trouble for Imperial's plans. LSR is a joint venture between Cargill and Sugar Growers And Refiners, Inc., a co-op of about 700 growers and seven member cane mills, some of which supplied another Imperial mill in Louisiana, according to the newspaper's story. Cargill said rather than use traditional shovels, the groundbreaking will be done with oversized "sugar spoons" in a style popular in the late 1800s, with a quintet performing and snacks made with Louisiana cane sugar served. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is among the invited guests. Construction o the refinery will take about 24 months, with commercial production beginning in the first half of 2010, according to Cargill's news release.

A sugar dust explosion is considered the likely cause of the Port Wentworthy blast. Thirteen workers have died as result of the blast and resulting fire. But the Port Wentworth mill was not destroyed; the refining area was largely spared, although the packaging area was demolished, according to the newspaper.

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